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Alicia Keys on the importance of activism and self-love

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Alicia Keys has spoken about the importance of political activism and self-confidence, saying: “I do feel there are certain things we come into this world having to defeat.”

The singer, who is the co-founder of civil rights initiative Moonshot and AIDS non-profit Keep a Child Alive, performed at the recent Women’s March on Washington and campaigned for Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election.

In a new interview, she shares her advice for staying politically motivated in turbulent times.

“I think the best advice that I would have – and look, I’m learning too – is that, first, you have to identify what you care about and why you care about it,” the 36-year-old singer tells US Glamour.

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Alicia Keys performing at the Women's March on Washington.

Keys co-founded Keep A Child Alive in 2003, inspired by her mother’s close friend who died from AIDS. Last year she set up racial injustice initiative Moonshot after two African-American men – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – were shot by white police officers in the US.

“[Activism] has to be personal,” she explains. “It has to be something that fires you up or means something to you, or it’s not going to drive you.”


Read more: The 2017 feminist calendar: events to celebrate the sisterhood


Keys first shot to fame at the age of 20 with her 2001 album Songs in A Minor, and was raised in New York by her mother Teresa. She told Glamour that Teresa had a strong influence on her commitment to fighting for what she believes in.

“I’m sensitive to other people’s feelings, which I think comes from my mother,” she tells the magazine. “She raised me; it was just her and I. She would drop jewels on me and call me on shit, like, ‘You know, it’s not all about you. What about how someone else might feel?’

“And I think that’s the basis of activism: caring about more than just yourself.”

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Keys greeting Barack Obama at a World AIDS Day event in 2011.

Moonshot’s mission statement compares ending racial injustice in America to “the seemingly impossible task” of landing a man on the moon. Shortly after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed in July 2016, Keys produced and appeared in a video titled ‘23 Ways You Could Be Killed If You Are Black In America’.

The campaign video starred other black stars including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Queen Latifah, and called for action from then-President Obama.


Read more: Solange Knowles has written a searing essay about being black in white spaces


Keys, who has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, says she’s not convinced his administration will be supportive of Moonshot’s work.

“The project is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s still developing,” she says. “We had a lot of support from the [Obama administration], but it’s a slow process.

“We’re not sure if the Trump administration will want to support this initiative.”

alicia keys

Keys made the decision to go make-up free in spring last year.

In the interview, Keys also discusses her decision to go make-up free last year, saying that she had struggled with self-belief for a long time.

“I do feel there are certain things we come into this world having to defeat,” says the singer. “For me, and I would not be surprised if a lot of women feel this same way, it’s this thing of not being 100% comfortable with myself.”

However, she says her understanding of what makes someone beautiful has evolved with time.

“Right now the way I define beauty is individuality and wisdom, which I think creates a certain inner confidence.

“Not confidence in a way that’s only on the surface, but a deep-down knowing of yourself or settling into who you are.”

Images: Rex Features

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