Monday, November 2, 2009

She's A LLady: Kizzy-Kay Graham

How did you get involved with Ladies Lotto?

I became involved through LL member Rachel Hill, about 2 years ago. She forwarded information about Ladies Lotto to a select few people who she thought would great additions to the organization. I was really active from the beginning and it's been an amazing experience so far. I've established some great networking connections and made life-long friends. It's also been useful to help further the LIFEbeat cause.

What's your background and how did you get involved with LIFEbeat?

I attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts as an Art Major. I then went to NYU as a film major. I began volunteering at LIFEbeat during college. After graduation, I worked at a dot com called, which was actually one of the first networking sites. Later on, while working at an accounting firm, I became burnt out and I quit. I realized that the corporate suit and tie thing just wasn't me. I did temporary work for a lot of companies like Coty, which I really enjoyed and I was with a merchandising company for a bit. But LIFEbeat and getting out the awareness about HIV and safer sex was something that I was still really passionate about. The opportunity to work with them arose again, and I took it.

LIFEbeat had a really strong presence in the 90's, with Salt N' Pepa ("Let's Talk About AIDS") and awareness about safer sex being at an all-time high. What's going on with LIFEbeat these days?

Right now, our focus is re-branding and getting back in touch with young people. Our thing has always been to partner with the music industry and recording artists in order to get the message across in a way that is relevant to the younger generations. We do most of our outreach at music venues. But with the music industry suffering the way it is and hip-hop artists not doing as well, live performances aren't as frequent. So, in addition to our tried and true methods, we're partnering with organizations that also have a focus on youth.

What happened to cause the shift in thinking and awareness in the country in just 10 or 12 years?

Ground was lost due to the Bush administration pushing abstinence only sex education. The main misconception is that we are pushing against abstinence and that we're promoting sex. Clearly abstaining is the only way to be completely protected (as far as sex is concerned). We just want people to be aware of their choices in how to protect themselves if they choose to have sex. Whether it's handing out condoms or reminding people of the importance of regular testing, we feel that that part of sex education is still necessary beyond simply telling people to abstain.

What kinds of outreach do you do at these venues and what kind of response do you get?

We typically set up a spot to speak to youths and their parents about how to be as safe as they can if they choose to be sexually active. The most important thing is that previously, the face of HIV/AIDS was gay white men, but now we need to include everyone. Not everyone is thrilled with our efforts, but the vast majority of people are positive in their reactions. We always have the most unexpected people share stories about family members who were affected by HIV/AIDS. It's an issue that has touched a lot of people and we're committed to spreading as much information to as much of the public as we can.

Other than the obvious, what else do you feel needs to be communicated to people so that the message stays with them?

Self-esteem should be discussed in conjunction with sex education. It's not simply about young people dealing with pressure to be sexually active. There are men and women in relationships with someone who they believe to be monogamous, or in situations where someone has cheated and measures aren't being to taken to ensure safety after this has happened. The take-home message is don't be afraid to express yourself or protect yourself. HIV/AIDS isn't selective. It's not a "gay persons disease". Anyone can be affected.

Do you want to stay at LIFEbeat or do you want to branch out to other outlets?

I'm really happy where I am. I'm passionate about this issue and I think this a great way to raise awareness to black and brown communities about HIV/AIDS. It's one of the most important issues in the world, and I'm committed to doing my part to keep the spotlight on prevention.

Aside from Ladies Lotto & LIFEbeat, what else are you involved in?

I've been doing marketing and development with former NYC Ladies Lotto organizer Sarah Pace for her catering company Rabbit Mafia. It's fun to be getting back into development and market research. In regards to Ladies Lotto, I blog under the handle "grahamatical", assist members with issues, wrangle volunteers and then some.

For more information or to become involved, visit

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