Photography by Tyler Cheever Gomes

An Interview with Jack Mackenroth

Jack Mackenroth has comprehensive knowledge of the HIV/AIDS space in the United States, including key issues, relevant media, top advocacy organizations, and influential activists and thought leaders. Through various programs Mackenroth has a proven ability to effectively navigate the HIV/AIDS media landscape in the US. He has appeared as the keynote speaker and special guest at national conferences, fundraisers and special HIV/AIDS related events. He has also utilized his vast knowledge and quick wit as a television and radio host and frequent guest on multiple multimedia platforms.

Hey Jack! How are you doing today?

Exhausted!! But good.

You recently told me you had an important interview.  Care to discuss it at all?

I am currently interviewing with a very well known HIV/AIDS organization and I am very excited about the prospect. That’s about all I can say.

Well, good luck with that. I’m sure great things will come your way. What are somethings you do to prepare for interviews or before you make your next big move?

I always do lots of research about the company and it’s employees. It’s important that you seem knowledgable about their goals and mission.

What is your advice for aspiring fashion designers?

Expect to work REALLY hard. If I had it to do over I would’ve started with an internship while I was in school. It also helps to define your design style early and decide who you would like to work for or if you want to design your own line.

How about specifically designers who want to get on Project Runway?

My advice to anyone who wants to get on the show is understand that the audition process is REALLY intense and it takes several months. Also the competition itself is grueling. There are no days off and the challenges happen every other day. You barely sleep. When you go into audition have a distinct point of view. Remember they are casting for a TV show first and foremost. They want you to be a character that viewers will respond to.

You got a lot of publicity from Project Runway. On the show you were not only openly gay, but also openly HIV+. Were you aware that this would lead you to becoming an activist? 

Not exactly. I was already doing work with HIV/AIDS agencies to some degree but disclosing my positive status on national television totally changed everything. Unfortunately there are very few people in the public eye who are willing to talk about their status so when I spoke about it so openly it was a huge media moment. I had a lot of choices to make after appearing on the show. I knew that if I went back into fashion design it would be more than a full time job and I would have to kind of leave the public activism behind. So I chose to focus on the work that I believe is ultimately more important.

You’ve been an HIV activist for a while now. What made you want to become so involved?

Well I’ve been HIV positive since I was 20 and I’m 45 now. I’ve been living with HIV my whole adult life. I continue to be vocal and visible about HIV issues because so many people who are HIV positive don’t feel like they can be. I also want to be a positive role model for anyone, positive or negative who has misconceptions about what a person living with HIV looks like. I certainly do not represent everyone living with HIV but I am one example of someone living a happy, healthy life.

Tell me a little about  Braking AIDS Ride and your 300 mile bike ride to fight HIV and AIDS. 

Braking AIDS Ride is a 3 day bike ride from Boston to New York on September 12th-14th. We average about 95 miles a day. Every rider is required to raise a minimum of $3,500 dollars but since I have such a large social media network I figured I would aim high. I raised close to $52,000 dollars for Housing Works during Braking AIDS Ride. That’s the individual fundraising record!!  Housing Works helps people who struggle with HIV and homelessness.

That’s awesome! A great way to help a lot of people along the way. How important is staying fit and active to your lifestyle?  

It’s very important to me. It’s essential for balance in my life and it helps with my mental health as well. I’m a competitive swimmer so I was raised as an athlete and I get a lot of satisfaction from setting goals and trying to achieve them. I try to do some form of exercise every day.

You look great! Your health and happiness has played a big role, no doubt! A lot of people reach out to you for advice, what are some things you love giving advice on?

The main thing that people ask for advice about is what to do when they are newly diagnosed as HIV positive. Since I am not a doctor and most often I don’t know the persons particular situation, I have to be very careful with what I say. I always recommend that they meet with a doctor as soon as possible and the protocol in the US is to put people on treatment immediately and get their virus to undetectable status. I know access to treatment is different all over the world and some countries wait to put individuals on treatment but that is the suggestion I give. Then I try to let them know that the treatments are great now and not to be scared because most likely they will live a very normal life.

Is the career you have now one that you’ve always envisioned for yourself?

No–I like new adventures and experiences and I never planned to be an HIV activist full time. I assume there will be a cure in my lifetime and if I’m not too old then I will have to reinvent myself again.

The universe  seems to have been lining things for the next place you belonged. Good luck with whatever new adventure you decide to tackle!


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