I’m far from the first person to preach the importance of compassion, indeed the need for compassion, when it comes to combating AIDS. Long before I ever got into this work, many brilliant, dedicated professionals from all around the world were orchestrating a compassionate response to the epidemic. I’m simply, and humbly, following in their footsteps. And while I would never suggest that I’m an AIDS expert, I have seen quite a lot through the work of my foundation.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to meet some of the greatest heroes in the global fight against AIDS. They include my many extraordinary colleagues around the world who are in the trenches, day after day. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and visit dozens of projects that the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) has funded. I’ve seen the difference these heroes are making. Compassion is a nice sentiment, but it’s so much more than that. I've seen with my own eyes what’s possible when compassion is put into practice.
I love the American South, where I’ve spent much of my life. I am always blown away by how beautiful that part of the country is. There’s something especially magical about Southwest Louisiana. Cypress trees that frame the haunting bayou. Flooded rice paddies and lonely prairies without a house or a living soul for miles. It’s one of the most rural places in America. And as with much of rural America, there is a quiet but deadly AIDS crisis that has been simmering for decades. Nearly 1,000 people in this one small corner of Louisiana are HIV-positive. They are among the poorest, most marginalized people in the nation. And they are mostly African-American.