b cool. b safe. b yourself.
It's become frighteningly ubiquitous. Once an afterthought for only a select group, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have permeated the lives of millions, changing the way we understand and inhabit this thing called life.
According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV, including 2.5 million children. During 2009, some 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS.
In 2008, blacks/African Americans accounted for 52% of new HIV diagnoses and 48% of AIDS diagnoses. And, surprisingly, to many, almost one-fourth of all people with HIV/AIDS in this country are age 50 and older. (see more statistics here)As a sexually active, same-race-dating African American, these startling statistics are a brutal reality that demand attention and a lifestyle shift.
And it's not just HIV/AIDS. With one in five Americans walking around with genital herpes, and at least 80 percent of those infected completely unaware of their infection, operating in the oblivion of days past is a no-go.
While others have recognized and even digested this information, three brothers from Morehouse College have determined that taking care of their own households isn't enough -- they must influence the decision-making of others.
The brain-child of Jason Panda, Elkhair Balla and Ashanti Johnson, b condoms aspires to reduce deaths and suffering due to STIs by distributing an inherently sexy condom and reinvesting a portion of its profits to organizations across the country that support STI education and prevention in the most affected areas.
It all started when Panda's mother reminded him of what matters most. Exhausted from the corporate law grind, and seeking an opportunity to commit to something with a greater purpose, Panda recalls the vivid conversation with his mom that rejuvenated his passion for STI research and prevention. "You were most passionate working at the Teen Help Line. Why not start a condom company?"
After spending some time in Africa researching the HIV epidemic, Panda recognized the severe gap in education, funding and quality products.
It was a no-brainer. With the help of his Morehouse brothers Elkhair (a former investment banker and current leader of the nonprofit side of their company, b foundation) and Ashanti (armed with pharmaceutical sales experience), Panda knew success was inevitable.
A brand under their larger company, B. Holdings Group, b condoms embodies a three-pronged approach.
b condoms founders Jason Panda, Ashanti Johnson & Elkhair Balla
1. B Safe: Rest assured that their focus is quality. After visiting a variety of manufactures, b condoms decided on a top manufacturer ensuring FDA approval. "Our focus is quality; consider it condoms with a cause," says Balla. Be yourself and choose between their four styles: Ribbed, Classic, Thin or Large.
2. B Yourself: By reinvesting a proportion of earnings in their partner nonprofits and organizations, b condoms is encouraging the continued education and programming necessary to inform smarter decisions for those at risk.
3. B Cool: With a sexy product, targeted marketing campaigns and strategic messaging, they aim to shift the stigma of wearing a condom in the most affected communities. Through their strategic partnerships and programming with organizations like the Magic Johnson Foundation, it's their goal to make picking up a condom as habitual as brushing your teeth.
Their latest partnerships have launched somewhat of a meteoric rise, most recently partnering with Google, the Magic Johnson Foundation, Florida A&M University, Morehouse College, Howard University and Black Enterprise.
So what's next for b condoms? Look out for the upcoming launch of their 2.0 marketing campaign, managed by Wondaland Arts Society Program Director George Twopointoh.
Get involved with b condoms by joining their mailing list, inviting them to speak at your organization or sending them a potential partner organization. Oh, and of course, the next time you decide to get frisky, b smart, b cool and use b condoms.
Jovian Zayne is a writer, photographer and occasional radio host in New York City. Jovian also works with Janelle Monáe & The Wondaland Arts Society along with Teach for America. Read more from Jovian on Word Up Haay! and follow her on twitter @jovizi for laughs, encouragement and your daily dose of quick wit.