Latifah told ABC News the effort is personal: Her mother, Rita Owens, suffers from heart failure and a condition called scleroderma, an incurable autoimmune disease that has caused scar tissue build up in her lungs. The 66-year-old former schoolteacher also has pulmonary hypertension, which impacts her ability to breathe.
“It's just a way for us to show support for all of those people who are dealing with the condition and those who care for them,” Latifah said.
The idea behind the campaign is for people to post photos of themselves taking steps while wearing red socks, to become more physically active and raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of heart failure. The goal? Six million “red steps,” in recognition of the nearly six million Americans living with heart failure.
Latifah said her mother’s approval of the campaign was imperative to her getting involved. She is now a spokesperson employed by the broader "Rise Above Heart Failure" campaign, funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
“This is something that I should’ve been involved in regardless of my mother, but because it's something that affects my mom, I really wanted her to be involved and I wanted her permission,” Latifah confided. “She's just so eloquent and positive in the way she puts things, it's something that we as a family like to share with other people because realize that by her talking about some of her medical issues, a lot of people are reaching out and saying 'Me too.'”
The "Ladies First" rapper is quick to note that she is no emblem of perfect health -- and this campaign has helped her personally.
“I am not perfect when it comes to just staying fit constantly all the time,” she shared, adding that the campaign reminds her to be diligent and that she doesn’t have to do it alone. Most of all, it’s about helping others," she said. “Sometimes I can rally that support and I can do right in my own group of family and friends."
She's also drawing much-needed attention to the heart condition, added Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, past president of the American Heart Association and chief of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The good news is that with this campaign, we're able to make the population aware that 'Hey you don't have to fear this condition,” Yancy said. “There are things you can do to treat it, there are ways we can prevent it. It is arguably a disease that is very different than what it used to be. We can do something about it and that's the big story.”