Fergie strikes a pose with Safe Space youth.  
Few companies are as steadfast in their consumer advocacy efforts as M·A·C Cosmetics. The company has been a pioneer in global HIV/AIDS support since 1994, when it launched the M·A·C AIDS Fund.

Multi-platinum Grammy Award-winning pop star Fergie joined the M·A·C AIDS Fund this February as a spokesperson for its most current effort. After becoming a household name with the Black Eyed Peas, Fergie has continued to score big on her own with “Fergalicious” and other hit songs. She’s using her celebrity status to assist M·A·C ’s Viva Glam VI campaign in promoting a limited-edition lipglass, with the proceeds benefiting the Global Youth HIV Prevention Initiative.

Through sales of Fergie’s lipglass, the M·A·C AIDS Fund has already raised $2.3 million for the initiative, which aims to empower young people around the globe through large-scale HIV prevention programs.

“AIDS is an issue that was top priority when I was younger. It was new. It was scary. It was unknown,” Fergie told POZ. “But today, people seem to have put it off a bit; people are not paying enough attention to HIV/AIDS. It blows my mind as I look at the new HIV infection rate among young people. Nearly half of all new infections in the U.S. are among people 15 to 24 years old. That is something to pay attention to and stand up to.”

And stand she has. Like other celebrities before her—Bono, Sir Elton John, Sharon Stone, Alicia Keys and Common to name a few—Fergie felt compelled to use her global renown to bring about tangible change in the fight against AIDS.

“As an artist, I am lucky to have a special connection with young people. I hear all the time that my music inspires them,” she said. “It is important for me to be able to use my celebrity and the power of music to send a positive message and to help more young people understand the ins and outs of HIV prevention.”

According to M·A·C AIDS Fund executive director Nancy Mahon, Fergie was a natural fit for both the company and the cause.

“Basically, we seek out spokesmodels who are the real deal and are willing to talk about the issues they are facing. And Fergie is perfect for talking to young people,” Mahon said. “The bottom line is that celebrities are very powerful in our society, and I think it becomes more and more a force for good in terms of behavior change as well as in terms of trying to get people to give philanthropically. It’s a great product, a great spokesperson and an important message.”

Recently, Fergie—real name Stacy Ferguson—announced 11 organizations that will receive funding through this program to bolster their prevention efforts targeting 15- to 24-year-olds. Safe Space NYC Inc. is one of those organizations.

 
Fergie chats it up during her Safe Space visit. M·A·C AIDS Fund executive director Nancy Mahon (center) looks on.  
On September 3, Fergie paid a personal visit to youth enrolled in programs at Safe Space, which serves New York City’s homeless and urban youth and provides a myriad of HIV prevention services through its drop-in centers in Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens. Safe Space’s HIV prevention programs include activities focused toward homeless transgender youth, minority women and young people of color.

According to Safe Space CEO Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the organization’s most successful programs cater to its clients’ creative urges, conveying HIV prevention messages through theater, poetry, songwriting, music and other artistic pursuits.

“It’s a way of expressing themselves without having to self-disclose to a therapist,” Barrios-Paoli said. “We’ve always tried to encourage that engagement.”

Fergie said that she noticed the effectiveness of that artistic connection immediately during her Safe Space visit.

“The kids told me that music is one of the top ways they like to communicate about issues in their life,” she explained. “A few of the kids even shared songs and lyrics they have written about HIV—how to prevent it and how it has affected them.”

Through the initiative, Safe Space will be able to extend its coordinated HIV prevention efforts to an 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. seven-days-a-week schedule, reaching an additional 2,500 to 3,000 young people each year.

“We would like to reach as many young people as we can, and make sure that they understand the reality of the risk that they are taking. That is our mission,” said Barrios-Paoli. “The M·A·C AIDS Fund are absolutely to be commended. They’ve taken a really positive position about how to deal with HIV/AIDS. They’ve taken risks with the organizations that they’ve funded, and they’ve tried to reward creativity in terms of who to work with and how to work with them.”

Other grant recipients include: Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECM) in India; the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention in Toronto; the California Prevention & Education Project; Grassroot Soccer in sub-Saharan Africa; Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago; New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center; the global Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States; the University of California San Francisco Foundation; the U.S. Mexico Border Health Association and Border AIDS Partnership; and The Women’s Collective in Washington, DC.

“This initiative is about trying to get us to the next level in terms of prevention work, because we’re kind of stuck here if you look at the numbers. In a way, that’s really scary,” Mahon said. “We need to break through the clutter and have honest, open discussion with youth that are in our lives about prevention and the importance of it.”

For more information on the M·A·C AIDS Fund, visit macaidsfund.org.