Even at a young age, Joel Goldman knew that he wanted to spend his life helping others. The managing director of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation first began his career in public service as a young teen serving as the social action vice president for his Jewish youth group in his home town. He went on to graduate from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. After a few years into his professional career, the young change-agent was diagnosed with HIV. That, combined with his fervor for helping others, would eventually mold him into the amazing man he is today.
Goldman remembers his initial diagnosis well.
“When the counselor told me my results I went numb," he recalls. "I thought it was a bad dream. I thought I would wake up at any moment. The counselor spoke but it was like hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher talk in the old cartoon — nothing registered. I remember walking down the hallway, still thinking I am going to wake up from this bad dream when I spotted a bowl of lollipops at the reception desk. I had never tasted food in my dreams before… [so] when I tasted that cherry lollipop I knew this was not a bad dream; this was reality. I took a walk around the block because I was so shaken I could not drive. I noticed flowers, trees, the blue sky, like I had never noticed them before; they were vibrant, they stirred me. Before this moment I never noticed nature — the closest I got to nature was an LL Bean catalogue. My HIV diagnosis was an awakening for me. It put me on a new path.”
After being told he would only live another two or three years, Goldman decided to make his HIV-positive status count.
“My college friend, T.J. Sullivan, and I created a program, Friendship in the Age, that became a staple on the college lecture circuit from 1992-1999,” Goldman says. Together the two spoke at 1000 campuses to audiences ranging from 100 to 15,000. During that same time, Goldman began consulting for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and started their college outreach program.
"The goal of that program was to educate college students about HIV and AIDS, raise funds for EGPAF, and help young people begin to engage in philanthropy," he says. "Part of my role included building a celebrity spokesperson team to help engage young people in the cause. Engaging and helping celebrities become true spokespeople for causes then became my career niche.”
Little did he know his work in HIV advocacy would span far beyond his initial prognosis.
But after 14 years with EGPAF, Goldman took a break from his professional focus on AIDS-related causes. He served as the director of entertainment industry relations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Feeding America, and Malaria No More, which helped him learn about building nonprofit brands, cause marketing, and integrating cause into film, scripted TV, and reality programming.
Nine years away from the HIV advocacy field, however, was long enough so Goldman found an organization that allowed him to combine his knack for entertainment with his passion to help others living with HIV.
“I put it out to the universe and specifically to my dear friend, Rene Jones, director of the United Talent Agency, that I was ready to come back to the HIV field,” Goldman says. “I was sitting in her office as we were discussing my desire when she got called into a meeting. The meeting was with The Elizabeth Taylor Trust as they were planning to hire the first managing director of [the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation]. Two hours later they had my resume and here I am about to start my 4th year in the position."
Goldman says he heard Elizabeth Taylor speak many times in his early career.
"In my support group when I was first diagnosed, we used to chat that Elizabeth Taylor was the only one fighting for us. The Reagan and Bush administration did nothing to help us. When President Clinton opened the Office of AIDS Policy in the White House there was finally hope. But before that, Elizabeth Taylor, was our only hope. It’s an honor to serve her foundation and continue her work and legacy. I am blessed by how many of her family and friends have stepped up to help. It really speaks to the incredible person she was.”
Today, Goldman is just as passionate, creative, and dedicated as ever. He also says that we can also expect a lot to come from ETAF.
“ETAF announced our goal last Fall to build a coalition to achieve 90-90-90 in Mulanje District of Malawi," Goldman says. The 90-90-90 goal, which is shared by UNAIDS and other global and national organizations, is the hope that by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90 percent of all people who are HIV-positive will be on regular antiretroviral treatment; and 90 percent of all people on treatment have an undetectable viral load (or have viral suppression).
"Elizabeth Taylor started a mobile health clinic program in this district [of Malawi] that had a 23 percent HIV prevalence rate amongst adults. We have begun to strategically tackle the first '90' recently completing a pilot program of door to door testing in 13 villages. We were able to test nearly 7,000 people and only two percent refused to be tested when the [Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance] team knocked on their door. We are on our way there to proving that the UNAIDS strategy works. If we can achieve 90-90-90 in a vast rural area, we can achieve this in Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, and so on."
Goldman is extremely proud of a grant closer to home, too: the UCLA Sex Squad program, which educates college and high school youth about HIV prevention, sexual health, healthy relationships, and self-efficacy. "Prevention strategies must adapt to meet the changing needs of our communities," he adds, "educating the most vulnerable individuals in contemporary, meaningful, and sustainable ways."
And for the second year in a row ETAF partnered with the Elton John AIDS Foundation to "urgently address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States. The highest rates of HIV diagnoses, the largest body of people living with HIV, and the most people still dying from AIDS-related illnesses presently exist in the Southern states. With $330,000 in grants to five organizations across the southern United States, ETAF and EJAF hope to decrease HIV infections, connect people to care, and empower the communities most affected by HIV including LGBTQ individuals and people of color in particular.”
With Goldman at the wheel, ETAF is having a great impact on HIV and how it's perceived in this country. In the spirit of Elizabeth Taylor, Goldman gets a worthy nod as one of our 75 Amazing HIV-positive People for 2016.
(Photo Courtesy of Laura Hajar)