A month ago, a friend asked Alicia Keys a question: Why are you here?
The question unsettled her deeply. “Honestly, nobody had asked me a question like that before,” the Grammy award winning singer said to an audience at the the Social Good Summit in New York Monday.
Keys was overwhelmed by dire news, from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to violence in Gaza, Syria and Iraq. At the same time, she is pregnant with her second child.
“I had to ask myself, ‘What kind of world am I bringing this child into?’ “ said Keys, who announced her plans Sunday for the “We Are Here” movement, dedicated to 12 social justice causes from racism to gun control to poverty.
The singer received a standing ovation when she announced that she was kicking off the movement with $1 million of her own money at the annual Social Good Summit in New York held during UN Week, which features leaders and luminaries from Ban-ki Moon to Melinda Gates. Nicholas Kristof has called it a “grassroots version of the annual United Nations General Assembly.”
“I believe that we need our leadership to reflect an equal balance of the gifts that both men and women have to offer,” said Keys.
“I believe in a world where every child born is nurtured so that they may be a beneficial presence in this world. It is time to end all forms of racial injustice for our black brothers and sisters and all people of color.”
Keys has 35 million Facebook fans and 20 million Twitter followers, but still feels “frustration” and “hopelessness” that all of us feel about social injustice, she says. “We all feel the same way,” said Keys. “What can we do instead of just be angry?”
Her answer is weareheremovement.com, which encourages fans to support 12 groups: Girl Rising, Keep a Child Alive and Moms Rising support girl’s education, children with HIV and AIDs, and maternal leave and stricter gun laws; Trevor Project and All Out are gay rights organizations that prevent teen suicide; Equal Justice Initiative and Trayvon Martin Foundation combat racial inequality in the justice system and racial profiling; War Child protects children in conflict areas; Oxfam, CARE and Partners in Health address global poverty and disease; and the Future Project helps American high school students to change their communities.
Two weeks ago, Keys released the hit single “We Are Here“ as a theme for her new project, which she sang to Sunday’s audience of advocates, policy makers and members of the press, asking them to stand up, hold hands and sing along with her.
“‘We Are Here’ chooses unity, love and compassion to change the status quo,” she said.
While other singers and celebrities have become involved in social justice at high policy levels, Keys wants to work on a grassroots level that engages her fans and “awakens” them.
“We all want to do something but oftentimes we don’t feel empowered. That is why I created ‘We Are Here,’” said Keys. “It’s not about me, it’s about we.”