After more than 40 years of serving the Greater Houston population, AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH) has welcomed their first Black chief executive officer.
W. Jeffrey Campbell, the charismatic leader with an ambitious vision of eradicating the HIV epidemic in Houston, understands the importance of leading strong teams, covering all bases when it comes to prevention and health care, and engaging with communities that are often untapped in the HIV/AIDS conversation.
“Prior to coming to AFH, I worked at the City of Houston’s Health Department as the HIV program manager,” Campbell explains. “In September 2019, I came in as AIDS Foundation Houston’s chief program officer and oversaw our prevention department, which included our PrEP program. That developed into clinical services, housing, and supportive services. Everything was growing, so last year we brought in a new chief program officer that was assigned to oversee housing and supportive services. On March 1, I became the first Black person to lead the organization as the chief executive officer.”
Leading the longest-standing HIV service organization in the state, Campbell’s passion for the plethora of community services AFH offers is palpable. “We provide housing and supportive services for people living with HIV as well as persons who are not living with HIV but are experiencing some level of homelessness,” he says. “That’s important, because housing really is a part of treatment. Persons living with HIV tend to live more healthily and stay treatment-adherent when their housing is stabilized.”
He sings the praises of AFH’s HIV testing team that executes numerous programs throughout the city, including their B.E.S.T. Box test-kit distribution. Those “Be Empowered to Self Test” kits allow people to test themselves at home for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and hepatitis C.
Educating the masses is a tall order, so Campbell and his team are grateful for their community collaborators. “We have a great partnership with two other organizations—Normal Anomaly and The Mahogany Project,” he says. “They serve their populations by educating them and [promoting] the B.E.S.T. Box test kit.”
Campbell also touts the effectiveness of two other AFH programs—Wall Talk, a sexual health education program for inmates in Texas; and Camp Hope, which offers children living with HIV an annual camping experience at the barrier-free camp Camp For All in Washington County.
As an ordained minister, the Texas native’s goals for his organization involve tapping into an unlikely outlet. “Growing up in the small town [of Cuero], and in the church, I knew that I was something other than heterosexual. I just couldn’t figure out how being gay and Christian could live in me,” Campbell recalls. That early soul work paid off. “When I really fell into my life’s work and my passion, I began to make that shift. Now I understand that I could never have done what I believe I’ve been created to do without being out, walking in my truth, and standing with my community.
“I volunteered with a church member of mine who worked with women with HIV, and I saw how HIV was impacting Black folks, and Black women in particular,” he explains. “I recognized that the space where Black folks gather a few times a week was the church—a space where we were not talking about HIV. Engaging the African American community is incredibly important for me, because I really do believe that until we’re able to end the epidemic in the African American community we’re going to always be at epidemic proportions, because it is African Americans who are leading in the numbers of newly diagnosed cases.”
Growing up as an only child, Campbell finds respite in going on solo travels and surrounding himself with good friends that he can rely on for good times and lots of laughs. “Spending time with my friends gives me a space to just breathe and not have to be CEO,” he admits.
“I share this work with people who are just as passionate about it as I am.”
—W. Jeffrey Campbell
Campbell also highlights his team at AFH. “We’ve got about 70 employees, a whole suite of chiefs and executive leaders, and there are other people that I share this work with, gratefully, that are just as passionate about it as I am.”
While Campbell’s appointment as CEO is an AFH milestone, he is quick to point out that AFH is just getting started. “When I came to AFH, my tagline was, ‘Let’s make history.’ That means even more to me now as I sit in the CEO seat and I think about ending the HIV epidemic in the Greater Houston area. I’m the first Black CEO, I’m an openly gay Black CEO, and we have an openly gay board chair that is serving simultaneously with me. Our goal is to end this epidemic, so I will be using that tagline as a guide—and certainly to empower my staff to not just say it, but to live it out every day.”
For more info, visit afhouston.org.