The words of Oprah Winfrey fuel Kalvin Leveille’s passion and purpose every day, motivating him to share his most personal trials to create positive change in the lives of others. “Oprah says we have two things we have to do in life; one is learning why you were born, and the other is learning what you are going to do about it,” Leveille says. Those words are his mantra and his mantle.
“As I’m getting older – I’m 32 years old now – I realize I have a responsibility to help people,” says Leveille, a proud New Yorker. “Maybe I can’t give someone a million dollars, but I can give someone hope. That’s what I feel like I was born to do.”
Leveille serves on the frontlines of educating others about HIV and AIDS, and is among those selected by the State of New York to champion the U=U or “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” initiative, which focuses on sexual health and safe sex. As Metrosource reported, the campaign in a simple and direct way explains how to protect yourself without surrendering to a life of celibacy. And it addresses how people living with HIV can bring their viral loads under control to the point that they too can become undetectable.
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Undetectable Means Untransmittable
As a longtime leader in health education, Leveille has shared his life’s journey with more than 50,000 people in the greater New York City area, visiting college and high school classrooms to discuss his multiple comings out – as a gay man, and later as HIV positive. “Coming out,” he says, “is not just about coming out to your family or the world. It really starts in your heart and learning to love and accept yourself.”
Born in Jamaica, Queens, Leveille was the first in his family to be born in the states after his family relocated from Haiti. Raised by a single parent, he recognized his same sex attraction early on and came out when he was 17 years old. While he had familial support, he nevertheless felt alienated by not having a mentor to turn to or resources that would, in his words, “help me figure things out.”
A few years later, during his undergraduate studies, he learned he was HIV positive. This was a period he considers the most challenging of his life. He felt alone, fearing stigma and estrangement. “It’s crazy that I didn’t think about my health. I thought about whether I would be alone for the rest of my life,” he says.
A Second Coming Out
As he came out to those close to him as a person living with HIV, Leveille found his way into advocacy. He became the Director of HIV Prevention Services at The Long Island LGBT Services Network. Then he joined Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As a Health Educator for “Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation” for the last decade, he has led more than 150 workshops populated most often by teenagers and young adults. He speaks about judgment, stigma and validation. “I tailor my story and experience to really target the issue and to bridge a gap and let people know, regardless of HIV status, that we are all in those together to make better decisions and make change,” Leveille says.
He also served three years as co-chair for the New York State Department of Health’s Statewide AIDS Services Delivery Consortium, and was then appointed as the youngest member and Prevention Committee Co-Chair to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force to reduce HIV infections in the state, taking on other prominent additional roles in healthcare initiatives.
If he’s ever doubted his impact, he needs to look no further than his Facebook inbox, where Leveille regularly receives messages from those who’ve heard his words. They write, “’You don’t remember me, but five years ago you came to my school and I just want to tell you that you changed my life’,” he says with satisfaction. Another man connected with him on an LGBTQ dating app and commented, “’You told me to always love and respect myself.’ Those moments mean the world to me.”
Accentuate the Positive
Now, as he focuses professionally on his creative side – acting, modeling and consulting – he remains on the HIV/AIDS advocacy frontlines, most prominently in his role as U=U spokesperson for the NY State Department of Health’s “I Can’t Transmit HIV” campaign. “U=U is hope. It is hope for people who are HIV positive and it is hope for individuals who are HIV negative,” he says. “In the HIV prevention toolbox, it is hope because it encourages people who are HIV positive to take their medication. So not only are they able to live longer and be healthier and in control and able to manage their HIV diagnosis, but [also] so they can ensure that they are reducing the chances of infecting their sexual partners.”
Taking on such a public persona has reshaped his mindset as well — about what it means to be HIV positive and to be an advocate. Leveille notes that as an advocate, he is not only educating but also becoming a beacon for change, using his positions to generate broader awareness, combat stigma and elicit life-changing conversations.
Live Your Best Life
“I want to use my experiences, my triumphs, dealing not just with me being HIV positive but me being a black gay male,” Leveille says. “I want to be able to help the generation that’s coming after me in particular. … I always say that the H in HIV stands for ‘Human’ and we need to pay attention to that. One of the core things about being human is that we are all seeking validation. I was seeking validation, acceptance and love.” He’s embodying the words of his role model, Oprah, who said: “There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling.”
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Last modified: August 12, 2019