"Reggie [Jenkins] has been doing remarkable things within the young MSM — Men who have sex with men — HIV-positive demographics," says Octavia Lewis, (#60 on Plus magazines Most Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016 list.) "He has assisted numerous young men relocate from the rural south to [New York City] and assisted them with receiving life sustaining resources. Mr. Jenkins is truly an unsung hero in the fight against the epidemic."
That's a world away from where Jenkins began. At 18 he got married to a woman and enlisted in the Navy. Neither stuck, but the latter lasted longer than the former: “It took less than a year for me to realize that I couldn’t live a lie married to a woman," Jenkins recalls now.
And when his tour with the Navy ended, he says, "I then decided to take a more structured approached with my career and moved to [New York City]. Once there, I was determined to make something happen for myself."
Not exactly sure what that would be, Jenkins says things clicked when he got involved with Housing Works, an organization combating homelessness and AIDS. "After fully understanding the mission and goals of the organization," Jenkins explains, "I immediately knew what my work in life was. I obtained a position within the youth department as an Outreach Specialist and soon begin to shine."
And shine he has: he was awarded the Commissioner Award two years in a row for his dedicated work in the youth division helping young New Yorkers with HIV obtain financial support, food stamps, housing, primary health care, and continuing educations.
During his five years at Housing Works, Jenkins says he learned, "HIV has no single face." The chronic condition impacts everyone differently and the youth Jenkins helped had different, individual needs.
Jenkins then became a Senior Outreach Specialist for the federally-funded H.O.U.S.E. Project (Health Outreach Utilization and Support Enhancement Project), where he continued to excel. "Due to my lobbying work I did in Congress between the years of 2012-2014 we saw the passing of the 30 percent rent cap law which allows HIV-positive clients to continue to work and gain housing assistance and have their portion of rent which they pay no more than 30 percent."
Jenkins currently works Thrive at Brightpoint, a Bronx, New York behavioral health program that provides comprehensive primary and mental health care and offers HIV-prevention services; geared specifically towards gay and bisexual men and transgender women of color aged 18 to 29. His experiences have allowed him to make a mark on his community, while also traveling the world speaking to young people about the long term ramifications of the choices they make now — and providing signpost for decisions not to make.
Jenkins says he is honored to be recognized for the work he’s been doing help those living with HIV and to ensure young people understand that HIV doesn't care who you are or where you are. He believes that banding together to stay informed, stay knowledgeable, stay your authentic self, and tell everyone your story is the best way to reach younger generations.
“The sense of invulnerability of youth is as powerful drug as any other that others around," he cautions younger people. "It can get very addictive too, so be very careful who you surround yourself with. Not everything that glitters is gold — sometimes it's metal sprayed with cheap paint,” he jokes. "Whether you’re positive or not, never let love or peer pressure be the reason you second guess your first thought, because most times your first thoughts are always the correct ones. You can have fun and get turned up but temper that feeling of reckless joy with responsibility when you are in that happy space.”
Sounds like good advice to us.