Essays — May 1, 2019 12:03 — 0 Comments

A 30/30 Vision

Below is a story that appeared in Alaska Beyond Magazine in May 2019

Seattle music producer Ryan Lewis, one half of the Grammy-winning rap duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, remembers telling his elementary school class that his mother was HIV-positive. Julie Lewis, now a 35-year survivor, contracted the virus in 1984 from a blood transfusion during the complicated birth of her first daughter, Teresa.

Julie wasn’t diagnosed until 1990, after she had given birth to Ryan and a second daughter, Laura (both fortunate to be free of the virus). The disease has been a part of the Lewis family’s narrative ever since. Yet lately, Julie, Ryan and other family members have been helping to write new chapters by increasing access to health care for people around the planet.

By 2014, Julie had dramatically exceeded her initial prognosis of a few years to live and wanted a way to mark her 30 years of survival. So she and her Billboard chart–topping son, Ryan, co-founded the 30/30 Project as an initiative of the Seattle nonprofit Construction for Change. The project has the mission of bringing 30 affordable, high-quality health care facilities to people in drastically underserved areas, such as communities in Kenya, Rwanda and Puerto Rico impacted by HIV and AIDS.

In partnership with organizations worldwide, the 30/30 Project has helped build 16 new clinics, and it has 14 more funded and on the way. The 30/30 Project identifies local community-based organizations in high-need areas and works with on-the-ground partners that manage the construction and, ultimately, the operation and staffing of the facilities. The sites include, among other resources, health care clinics that provide service for HIV-positive patients and maternity wards that support pregnant mothers.

“Having a baby should not be a DIY project,” says Julie, a former science teacher who has a degree in public health. “The look of relief on the faces of women we’ve been able to help has been so gratifying. To know that they won’t have to go through hardships during pregnancy and that their daughters won’t either—it’s tremendously rewarding.”

Since its inception, the 30/30 Project has enabled more than 250,000 patient visits overall, including more than 80,000 HIV tests and more than 15,000 prenatal visits, supporting more healthy births than anyone predicted.

The initiative has also raised more than $2 million in revenues for projects, including the hundreds of thousands of dollars collected at a March event at The Showbox music venue in Seattle. The evening featured performances by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, as well as by the famed Emerald City rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot, who praised the Lewis family.

“To me,” Mix said between songs, “the mark of success is not money or glitz but when you leverage it to make somebody else’s life better.”

By that measure, the Lewis family has been vastly successful. And the work has been a full family effort. In 2015, Teresa Lewis joined the project as its director. Ryan’s wife, Jackie, took on a volunteer role, clocking about 20 hours per week in the office when she’s not traveling full-time for the organization. Ryan’s sister Laura is also involved. Their work includes fundraising, working with new sites and partners, and organizing events.

“I remember back in 2014 when all of this was just an idea,” Ryan explains. “It has been incredible to see how the project has grown. To have my wife come back from her time in Togo, or my sisters come back from Kenya, and to hear about all the work we’re doing—I’m just really proud to be involved. HIV has been a part of who we are for my whole life. To see it become the fuel behind action is unbelievably cool.”

While there have been challenges for Julie and company to navigate, the overarching maxim for their project has remained simple and constant.

“I don’t think health care should be reserved for the privileged,” Julie says. “I believe we’re here with each other to take care of each other. That includes everyone.”

For additional information about the 30/30 Project and the work of the Lewis family, and to learn how you can help, visit 3030project.org.

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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