(Pictured above: Karyn Watkins and Luvvie Ajayi)
Karyn Brianne Watkins and Lovette “Luvvie” Ajayi are the founders of The Red Pump Project, an initiative designed to promote HIV prevention through education, and open dialogue about the issues that surround sexual and reproductive health. They do work online and on the ground to motivate action and encourage dialogue about the effects of the disease.
On March 22, The Red Pump Project will host its fifth annual Rock The RED fashion show at Chicago’s Alhambra Palace. Rock the RED combines the ladies’ passion for fashion and social justice, while commemorating National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The show will showcase fashions by designers from around the city of Chicago and honor a local HIV/AIDS activist with the Ultimate Red Pump Rocker award.
Red Pump believes that if HIV affects one, it affects us all. Using a powerful symbol for a powerful cause, their incorporation of fashion into the message of HIV prevention is their contribution in the hopes of showing that Awareness is Always in Style!
Karyn tells ro more about the organization and its initiatives.
How did The Red Pump Project begin and why a red pump?
The Red Pump Project is an organization that was founded in 2009 with a mission to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS. We empower, educate, and motivate action by boldly driving conversation online and offline around HIV prevention and issues related to sexual and reproductive health. Our use of the red pump is to symbolize the strength and courage of women affected by HIV/AIDS. We use the red shoes to get the attention of women everywhere. Once we have your attention, we want to talk to you about HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls.
Tell us about the Rock the RED Fashion Show?
Rock the RED is an evening that combines fashion and awareness, while celebrating Red Pump’s anniversary. Each year, we showcase local fashion designers and we recognize a Chicago woman who is incredibly committed to the cause of HIV/AIDS. This is our fifth year hosting the fashion show and it is truly our favorite event. It’s a fun time and our guests walk away knowing more about the disease and the work that we do.
Aside from the annual fashion show, what other initiatives is RPP involved in?
We host educational events like our “Cupcakes & Condoms” program in which female health educators come out and talk to women about real topics and engage them in an open dialogue about sexual responsibility and awareness. In addition, members of our team speak at health fairs, community events, and lead AIDS-related service projects in their respective areas.
As far as awareness what’s the one point you’d really like to drive home when it comes to HIV and AIDS?
HIV can definitely happen to you so make sure that you are protecting yourself and that you know your HIV status.
Do you two ever clash with ideas on methods of approach? How do you reconcile sometimes having separate visions on things?
When you have two passionate individuals working together, there is always an opportunity to disagree on ideas or execution. We always try to understand where the other person is coming from and see if there is a way to compromise on a solution. When that’s not possible, we take a break from the topic and come back to address it with a fresh perspective and clear head.
How do you use social media to your advantage?
The Red Pump Project was launched as a social media initiative to commemorate National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10). We have always been very aware about the power of social media, so we’ve made the decision to use ours for good. We post links to articles, HIV/AIDS statistics, and more across our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Social media gives us immediate access to our followers and makes it so easy to kick off a discussion about relationships, women empowerment, and HIV awareness.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
It’s probably a tie between the moment when Alicia Keys shared a few tweets encouraging her followers to #RocktheRedPump or presenting at the National HIV Prevention Conference in 2011 about our work. Both of those accomplishments served as reminders that people do take note of what we’re doing and definitely motivate us to keep going.
Who inspires you?
We are inspired by all of the women who we’ve met over the past five years – women who are invested in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
What’s next for Red Pump Project?
In the near future, we’re planning for summer events both in Chicago and Washington D.C. We are also finalizing our national calendar for the second half of 2014 to make sure that we’re bringing quality (and fun) programs to our ambassadors’ cities. Looking ahead to these next five years, Red Pump plans to expand our ambassador program to New York City and Los Angeles. We are also currently working on a series of educational and social media workshops that we can offer to people and fellow non-profit organizations, respectively.
For more information on The Red Pump Project, please visit their website at www.theredpumpproject.org
Ticket information for the Rock The RED fashion show can be found by clicking here.