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“One day I woke up and said you know what, I have to do more. I need to do more. You know I can't just do something once a year,” says Brown.
In 2009, Brown started the Somwa Foundation, which stands for “Survivors of Mothers with AIDS.” The group organizes trips, parties and other events for kids who have lost a parent to AIDS and for mothers who are HIV-positive. Many of the moms are clients of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, which provides services to 3,000 women living with the disease.
“We had just lost some important funding to run some women's programs, and Shacazia came out of the clouds to say I'm here, I want to support you and be there with you,” says Janet Weinberg, COO of Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
Denise Heath was diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. The 59-year-old grandmother is a GMHC client and has attended Somwa events with her family.
“A lot of people are still getting ill, and she uplifts the family and the children by showing us she cares,” says Heath.
To show New Yorkers she cares about them too, she started hosting “Karaoke for a Cause” once a month at Radio Star Karaoke to raise money for new nonprofits.
In the past two years, Brown’s toy drives have collected close to $100,000 in toys and electronics. Denise's granddaughter will be getting her toy at the GMHC holiday party.
“It makes me want to give her a hug and a kiss because it's very nice of her to do this for kids that are not even hers,” says 10-year-old Jaliyah Wilkes.
The toys won't just be going to organizations in New York. Brown also plans on sending thousands of gifts to Africa to help support her foundation there called Somwa Kenya.
“We're sending dolls, trucks, jump rope,” says Brown.
For finding many ways to make a difference at home and abroad, Shacazia Brown is the latest New Yorker of the Week. Jessica Abo.