“18 years ago it would have been hard to imagine that today we’d have the support of so many world class athletes, a Nobel Prize winner, top-notch entertainers, and global health leaders. It would have been hard to imagine we’d have reached 13 million youth in over 60 countries with GRS health programs. But it’s all thanks to generous individuals, from all walks of life, and partners, big and small. It’s thanks to our young Coaches, who have chosen to be role models for their communities. And it’s thanks to our participants, who show up, who engage, and who are the next generation of changemakers. ”

– Tommy Clark, MD, Grassroot Soccer CEO & Founder

On December 1, 2020, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) took its World AIDS Day Gala virtual, with a star-studded lineup helping to raise critical funds to ensure that during COVID-19 youth in Africa don’t get left out or become isolated, and can get the support they need to be healthy. The event raised over $1 Million, which will empower thousands of youth with the critical health knowledge, life skills, and mentorship they need to thrive. 

With the event going virtual this year, viewers gathered from around the world, hearing from global health luminaries, advocates, entertainers, world-class athletes, and GRS Coaches and participants. The evening began with a pre-show concert, introduced by George Lamb, that treated guests to intimate performances by Charlotte OC, La Reyna Y La Real, Julia Church, and Lily Allen. The gala continued with appearances and special messages from former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Sir Alex Ferguson CBE, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, World Cup Champion and USWNT Player Christen Press, Chelsea FC and USMNT Player Christian Pulisic, GRS Global Ambassadors Rachel Riley, Freddie Ljungberg, and Robert Pirés, Aberdeen Football Club Chairman Dave Cormack, Sir David Beckham OBE, acclaimed South African musician Vusi Mahlasela, GRS Co-Founder and Survivor: Africa winner Ethan Zohn, Liverpool FC Manager Jürgen Klopp, World Cup Champion and USWNT player Tobin Heath, international and college coach and former pro Bobby Clark, and a special message from Sir Elton John and David Furnish, delivered by Gala Committee Co-Chair Fiona Ferguson.

After performing “Say Africa,” Vusi Mahlasela left World AIDS Day Gala attendees with a call to action: “Let us not forget to love one another. Let’s embrace that concept of UBUNTU.”

UN Women Executive Director Madame Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka joined Two-Time World Cup Champion and USWNT Player Christen Press for an engaging conversation about gender equity. Adolescent girls are particularly at risk of contracting HIV, and are more than twice as likely to become infected than boys of the same age. Gender-based sexual violence contributes to the spread of HIV – girls who have experienced sexual violence are 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV. 

GRS Global Board Member and Global Ambassador Christen Press interviews UN Women Executive Director Madame Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Mlambo-Ngcuka told Press, a GRS Global Board Member and Global Ambassador, about the importance of role models and community: “I grew up in a home where my mother was an AIDS activist. A lot of times we were surrounded with families and children that were dealing with the impact of losing parents or loved ones … I saw first hand how much that support that can come from extended family makes a whole difference,” Mlambo-Ngcuka reflected. “It makes people want to fight, because they feel they have something to live for. And I would say Grassroot Soccer falls into those safe spaces, kind of like a bubble, so people feel like their life is meaningful and enjoyable.” 

In a poignant moment, Rugby World Cup Champion Siya Kolisi, interviewed by former GRS Global Board Chair Gregg Lemkau, impressed upon attendees the importance of involving boys and young men in advancing the rights of girls and young women. “If we educate our sons, we will not have to protect our daughters,” Kolisi remarked.

The auction boasted an impressive lot of prizes, ranging from art to safaris to exclusive experiences in elite locales, and helped to elevate the fundraising efforts of the night. The lively auction saw a spirited competition between the UK and US, all with a united goal of helping adolescents understand and overcome their greatest health challenges. 

In a year unlike any other, GRS holds profound gratitude for the dedication and ingenuity of our Gala Committee Chairs Fiona Ferguson, Gregg Lemkau, Christen Press, and Gordon Singer, the generosity of our sponsors and auction prize donors, and everyone in attendance who helped to elevate and advance our programming in pursuit of accessible adolescent health at a time when young people need it most.

You can view the event via the YouTube link below, which begins with the formal program. If you’d like to watch the entire show – including the pre-show concert performances in full – go to the GRS Facebook page, where the formal program starts at 33 minutes in.