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ONE at 20: Barb Barrar


Barb Barrar has been a ONE activist from the very start – since May 16, 2004, the day ONE was launched in Philadelphia. On ONE’s 20th birthday, we chatted with Barb about her first 20 years as an activist – and what she hopes to see in the next! 

From left: ONE Activists Brian Thomas, Barb Barrar, and Alix Gordon were recognized for 20 years of service to ONE during the 2024 Power Summit in March 2024.

Q: How/why did you come to be involved with ONE?

Honestly, it was Bono’s fault.

In 2001, a friend talked me into going to a U2 concert in Philly. I wasn’t really a U2 fan prior to that, nor was I an activist of any sort. But during the show, I clearly remember Bono talking about nine million HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa. I was stunned and confused. NINE MILLION kids didn’t have parents because of AIDS? I wanted to learn more about it – and see what I could possibly do to help. I started to volunteer, all online, with the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt Campaign and then DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa). In 2004, I received an email regarding a new organization that Bono was creating with other activists. My response: “Heck yeah! Sign me up!” 

Barb and her fellow ONE activists took to the streets of New York City in 2022 to raise awareness about the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Q: Tell us what that very first day in Philadelphia.

It was unbelievably hot for May in Philly, as we watched Bono, Agnes Nyamayarwo, Michael W. Smith, Dikembe Mutombo, and others speak in Independence Mall. I stood behind a folding table, with a clipboard, sheet of paper, and a pen, signing up “members” for this new organization, The ONE Campaign, whose goal was to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa.

It is a true gift to be part of an organization with like-minded people who share my passion about ONE’s issues.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories from the past 20 years?

There have been (probably) hundreds of incredible events over the past 20 years but I would say the most profound moment, for me, happened in New York City in 2015. ONE and (RED) were at Rockefeller Plaza for the Today Show, where I had the pleasure of meeting a mother and her daughter who were ambassadors for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The mom is HIV positive, but because she was able to receive antiretroviral medication during her pregnancy, her daughter was born HIV free. I was meeting living, breathing proof that the programs we were advocating for were truly saving lives! Years later, I met up with the daughter, who is now a mother herself to a healthy child. 

Q: What about ONE and our work has kept you engaged for 20 years?

Seeing what we do actually does make a difference! All the letters, cards, phone calls, and meetings – our voices do indeed make a difference in the lives of millions of people. And, of course, all the amazing ONE staff I’ve worked with over these 20 years! 

Brian Sweeney, my Regional Organizer, has always pushed me beyond my comfort zone and supported me for many years. I am a volunteer leader because of his encouragement.

Q: What are your hopes for ONE’s future?

I hope that we can continue to educate and inform everyone, as well as encourage new volunteers to use their very powerful voices. I hope that we can continue our non-partisan work to save more lives and create a more equal and equitable world. I truly believe that where you live should not determine whether you live. 

ONE Activists with cofounder Bono and Bill Gates in New York City in 2022.

Q: What advice would you give to a new activist?

Use your voice. Use your passion. Share your story. And remember: this work we do is not a sprint, but a marathon. Appreciate (and have fun on) the journey!

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