Billy Talent: Canadian
“Red Flag”; ‘Billy Talent 2′ (2006)
Stephen Lewis woke a lot of people up, but people don’t like to wake up. We like to be asleep for as long as we can and we will actively resist any alarm, going so far as to beat the alarm into little pieces even when we know that listening to it will save our lives.
Stephen was that alarm clock and he got beaten up by governments around the world for trying to wake us up to the African AIDS epidemic. But Lewis fought back, hard. For five years. Not too long ago the United Nations had no concrete policy to fight AIDS. Now it does. So do a lot of other Non-Government Organizations. So do a lot of the worlds governments. In between then and now was Stephen Lewis.
In 2005 Time Magazine named Stephen one of the “100 Most Influential People In The World” in the same category as The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela for his work as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. As Special Envoy from 2001 until last year, it was his job to be the person who screamed in your ear to wake the fuck up and recognize the desperate situation in Africa, to recognize the HIV/AIDS crisis and to convince leaders and the public that they had/continue to have a responsibility to respond.
Pretty much every AIDS initiative dealing with AIDS in Africa today came from his work. But because he had to scream aboot it so people would understand and listen to him, he also alienated a lot of people. He was constantly telling governments that they weren’t doing enough, but he’d do it in public. While the leader was beside him on the podium. And the government’s would be embarrassed into action. But they’d remember. And Stephen, eventually, stepped on too many toes and the UN shut him down. But the world’s richest countries now contribute billions of dollars that they weren’t before. And the Foundations, like Bill & Melinda Gates, are pushing money into Africa and the African nations themselves have stopped treating the disease like it was mystical and could be treated by witches.
Stephen made AIDS personal for the world by teaching world leaders and the rest of us aboot stories of Africa’s grandmothers, who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their dying children and raising their soon orphaned grandchildren. An estimated 24.5 million adults and children were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2005. During that year, an estimated 2 million people died from AIDS. Africa now has an estimated 13 million AIDS orphans, and in some countries up to 60% are looked after by grandmothers. An entire generation has been scooped out of Africa by AIDS leaving children to care for their brothers and sisters, and elderly grandmothers left to care for handfuls of orphans. Think of the education that’s missing, all of that knowledge not being passed from mother to daughter or father to son. Most of the population in most African countries are dying from AIDS or HIV, and unlike every other disease it is the middle of the population structure that is being killed off. AIDS in Africa is a Generation Killer and will forever alter every African generation to come. Stephen once referred to the worlds response to Africa’s tragedy as “mass murder”.
When Stephen was finally replaced by the United Nations he immediately created “The Stephen Lewis Foundation” so he could make the grandmother’s struggle known to the world and try to bring grandmothers together to fight for the lives of their grandchildren. The Foundation recently held its first international Grandmothers’ Gathering, where one hundred African grandmothers from eleven countries met in Toronto with 200 Canadian grandmothers. The Gathering provided a forum for African grandmothers to set the agenda for support and to establish networks and plan ways of moving forward to help.
The biggest, in my opinion, effect Stephen had during his time with the United Nations was in convincing and educating the African governments themselves into believing that AIDS was real and — more importantly than that — the disease could be, and needed to be, managed.
Stephen is an emotional and effective speaker and one of the most decent people you could ever hope to meet, and he spent the better part of his life fighting, hard, to make the lives of strangers better. If you have a chance to see one of his speeches on YouTube, take it. In fact I’ll leave one here. In the 1960s and 1970s, Stephen Lewis was an elected representative to the Ontario Legislature, and served as leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party. From 1984 through 1988, he was Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations. From 1995 to 1999, Lewis was Deputy Director of UNICEF. Lewis is also the recipient of The Pearson Peace Medal for his outstanding achievements in the field of international service and understanding.
Stephen was born in Ottawa, Ontario on November 11, 1937. He is married to Michele Landsberg, and they have three children.
Now… watch a person of conviction stun the audience at the 2006 AIDS Conference in Toronto:
Stephen Lewis: Canadian
“Keynote Address:” ‘The 16th International Conference On AIDS’
— Toronto, Ontario, Canada: August, 2006