Greenpoint resident Jeffrey Newman is determined to change the way the world sees people with HIV and AIDS.
Through his Facebook pages, HIV and AIDS – Get The Facts – Curb The Ignorance and Positively Jeffrey, Newman has reached thousands of people, helping to eliminate many of the stigmas attached to the virus while delivering a positive message to those who have it.
Newman tested positive for HIV in 2001, just a few months before the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. The combination made him step back and reassess his life. “I was a typical corporate climber,” he recalled. “It completely changed my priorities.”
But it was a phone call 2 ½ years ago from a high school friend that put him on his current path. She told him that her friend’s 27 year old son had just tested positive and was having a hard time, and asked if Newman would mind speaking with him.
Newman wondered why the son needed his help. “I thought that at this point [HIV] information is everywhere.” He called, “and the first question the son asked was ‘When’s it going to happen?’ It was just mind boggling to me that this 27 year old kid had these archaic ideas of what testing positive for HIV means.”
Newman had always been open about his HIV status. His family and friends were always supportive of him, in stark contrast to many gay and HIV positive people. “I feel fortunate not to have the barriers so many others do,” he said. “I knew I was the exception to the rule, and I knew I had to show gratitude for that and give back.”
He continued reaching out to his friend’s son, but with no results.
In August 2011, he tried a different approach. He told his story on Facebook. At the time, he thought, “I’m going to create this group, get the facts and cure the ignorance. I figured this is the only way this kid is going to get this information and hopefully it would get through to him.” The reaction to his story was bigger than he dreamed. Within days, 100 people had joined his HIV and AIDS group. Before long, that number neared 5,000.
Newman had found the voice he had been seeking since 9/11.
He quickly discovered the effect of attaching a face to HIV. He started receiving notes of support from people with whom he had gone to high school, including several from whom he would never have expected.
More than ever, he was determined to break the stereotypes associated with the virus. “I came across so many people who had tested positive and read my story and were like ‘I can do this,’” Newman said.
More and more people joined his group and added their faces to his campaign. “We were showing the changing face of HIV and AID,” Newman said. “The 5,000 members of my Facebook group, now all knew someone with HIV.”
On Thanksgiving 2013, he launched Positively Jeffrey to reflect the person he had become. “Positive Jeffrey forces me to find inspiration in my life,” Newman said. “What I love about Positive Jeffrey is that every day I have to find a reason to be positive. I don’t see negatives in life anymore. We all have bad stuff happen to us, but you can’t get bogged down in it. That’s what’s going to kill you.”
Newman also found an outlet at the Greenpoint Reformed Church’s soup kitchen and food pantry, where he has volunteered for the past 2 ½ years – work that helps him build a deeper appreciation for all the good things he has. He brings the same attitude to his volunteer work at the church that he brings to his efforts for HIV. “He really makes a difference,” said the church’s Pastor Ann Kansfield. “He’s stubborn and persistent. He doesn’t let anything get in his way.”
Newman’s success has brought him unwanted attention as well. One movement doesn’t believe HIV exists and that people like him are working for pharmaceutical companies. He was also identified on a list of people furthering “The Jewish Homosexual Agenda,” along with people like Harvey Fierstein and Ed Koch, which will “lead to the destruction of the United States’ moral foundation.”
The scales clearly tip in favor of Newman’s work, however. Most recently, he was honored by POZ, a national magazine for HIV and AIDS positive people, when he was named to the its list of Unsung Heroes, honoring HIV and AIDS positive people who inspire others living with the virus.