alicia keys awarded top amnesty international award for hiv/aids activism

The musician and activist gave a powerful acceptance speech, including an original poem and a John Lennon quote, praising the Black Lives Matter movement and fellow award winners the Indigenous rights movement in Canada.

30 May 2017, 2:30pm

Amnesty International have recognised Alicia Keys with their highest human rights award, the Ambassador of Conscience Award. The award was presented by Erika Huggins, a former leading member of the Black Panther Party, at a ceremony in Montreal at the weekend. Alicia Keys has a long history of activism, having co-founded the HIV/AIDS charity Keep a Child Alive in 2003, and the WE ARE HERE coalition in 2014, bringing activism to a millennial audience.

Accepting her award, Alicia gave a powerful speech opening with a poem that begins: "Just wondering… When will we fly above the mess / The confusion / The hatred / The lies / That unties us / Just wondering… When will we see each other as golden / And children / As innocent, meant to be protected / And colour as irrelevant / And love as everything". She went on to quote the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and its leaders, as well as the Indigenous rights movement in Canada, members of which also received the Ambassador of Conscience Award at the same ceremony. Keys concluded with the John Lennon quote "A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality," saying "We are all dreaming together tonight. I am honored and inspired to be your Ambassador of Conscience and I stand with you all".

The Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, said "Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience awardees this year stand in the tradition of past winners such as Vaclav Havel and Malala Yousafzai - people who have shown exceptional leadership and courage to champion human rights, often in the face of great difficulty". Previous winners also include Nelson Mandela, Ai Weiwei and Joan Baez.

Alicia Keys posted a series of Instagram stories from Montreal on the day of the award ceremony, describing how a charity concert in Africa organised by MTV led her into HIV/AIDS activism, and interviewing Delilah Saunders of the Indigenous rights movement in Canada. Delilah spoke about taking up the mantle of activism when her sister was murdered in 2014; her sister had been writing a university thesis on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada at the time of her own murder. At the ceremony, Amnesty International launched a petition calling on Canada's Minister of Justice to uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

You can read Alicia Keys' acceptance speech in full on her website.


Text Charlotte Gush
Lead image Rodolphe Beaulieu / Amnesty International