October 29, 2007
Guest blogger: Taylor Hanson on AIDS in Africa
Oct 27, 2007, 12:24 AM | by Shirley Halperin

Categories: Music, Music Biz

Each week, Hollywood Insider will ask one music maker to share his or her opinions about whatever he or she is passionate about. Upcoming guest bloggers will include Serj Tankian, Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and Fall Out Boy's Joe Trohman. This Friday's contribution, by musician Taylor Hanson, is especially pressing. (BTW, Tay's brother, Isaac, is "doing fine," after having surgery earlier this month for a near-fatal form of pulmonary embolism). Consider this your weekend send-off: something to ponder as you take a short break from the biz.

Take a Walk, people.
by Taylor Hanson

What is the cause of our time? What is our generation going to be remembered for? Are we destined to be defined by party-hopping celebrities and shock-value news coverage? These are some of the questions I think about and pose to those that have joined us on 1 of the 25 barefoot walks (35 before we are finished) that we have done in cities across the country trying to encourage action – focused on poverty and AIDS in Africa.

Over a cup of coffee and some other crazy juice that was probably slipped into our lattes, I brainstormed with TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie about how we could help. TOMS is unique in that it donates a pair of shoes, every time you buy a pair, to a child livivng in poverty. Blake and I met in August, and three weeks later, through our shared goal of galvanizing action and the band's decision to incorporate giving into our businesses, we kicked off The Walk Tour with TOMS shoes in toe.

Our own quest began when we went to Africa in early 2006 to learn about the issues with AIDS and poverty at its worst. There, we recorded two African children’s choirs and began our efforts to use our music with the song "Great Divide" to support direct action, sending funds straight to doctors and buying medicine with the proceeds of GD on iTunes. What unifies the message of a pair of shoes, or a song, or any action, is that we each have something we can use.

My experience in Africa was, in a word, life-changing. And also inspiring. There, you have a situation where kids are born with a disease, had no choice in the matter, and somehow pushed through — they don't act like victims, they don't feel hopeless — I saw that over and over again. The money that comes from download sales of "Great Divide" goes to a hospital whose main focus is children and mothers suffering with AIDS. With all the advances in AIDS research, there are drugs you can administer to mothers that, if taken a month before giving birth, will effectively stop the transfer of the disease from mother to child. That's life-saving medicine, but what's needed is the manpower to administer it, the people there who are looking for real solutions to a pandemic that's affected an entire generation.

It's true of any cause: if it's not on your doorstep, it feels inconvenient, so it's easily ignored. There had been a wave of money that's come from the states, but we're not facing a death sentence like in the '80s. Still, this is relevant to us. Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we're from, the average American town, is now among the top five states in number of AIDS-infected cases. It's just as important now as it ever was.

Through each stop of the tour, we invite fans and anyone else who would like to take part, to join us for a one-mile walk. The guys and I do it barefoot and focus on what it feels like to be in need and how many impoverished people have needs as simple as a pair of shoes.

What began as a humble idea has steadily grown. We've had thousands of fans, local artists and other supporters come along and walk. In a few days, we will celebrate the first wave of TOMS shoes being delivered to Africa with a special walk in West Hollywood on Tuesday, Oct. 30th, along with a performance to thank those who take part. Please, join us at 10:00AM at West Hollywood City Hall, then on to Sunset Boulevard.

The Walk is just the beginning. Following this first leg of the tour we, along with members of the TOMS shoes staff, will be delivering thousands of shoes to children in South Africa one by one, reminding us that a simple action from an average person can produce something extraordinary. Now there is nothing wrong with a party hop, and no doubt we can't all put our day-job on the back burner and become activists…or can we? After all, everyone can walk.

For more information on Hanson's Walk A Mile campaign, check out hanson.net or TomsShoes.com