Return of the MACK
In 2014, activist Jack Mackenroth assembled a team for BRAKING AIDS, the 285-mile Boston-to-New York bike ride to benefit Housing Works, and the experience was anything but deflating.
Three years ago, over seven weeks, he raised a record-setting $56,000. His team, The MACK PACK, raised almost $200,000. This time, he is aiming higher. “I started two months earlier this time, so I set my goal for $75,000,” Mackenroth tells A&U. “It’s a huge amount and it gives me anxiety but that’s exactly how I felt when I committed to 50K in 2014—and somehow it happened, so I have faith.” Faith—and determination. And maybe a little good-humored taunting. “If you are reading this get ready to donate because I will find you,” he quips.
He’s not only looking for donations—he’s encouraging others to join his team. “In May and June I am really concentrating on building as large of a team as possible. I would love to get thirty-plus riders on the MACK PACK,” he says. (Anyone interested in riding with the MACK PACK can e-mail Mackenroth at [email protected]; or contact him on any social media @jackmackenroth.)
Knowing that events like BRAKING AIDS might seem daunting, Mackenroth is quick to point out that the ride itself is only three days. And participants stay in hotels—the only camping involved is the verbal sort. “The ride is a blast!” he assures. Riders are fully supported on the trek—all meals, snacks, and lodging are provided, the route is clearly marked, and support vehicles travel with the participants as does the ever-helpful volunteer crew. Each rider is committed to raise at least $3,500, but participants often surpass this mark.
And now more than ever, in light of an administration that seems determined to limit the resources available to those in need, Mackenroth reminds: “It’s a great way to feel like you are making a real difference when you feel powerless about the orange twitler.”
Mackenroth, who has been living with HIV for nearly three decades, is committed to making sure Housing Works continues its important work. “I lived through the horrors of the early years of AIDS and we can not go back,” he says. Based in New York City, Housing Works is dedicated to making sure those “early years” are not forgotten—and never repeated. In light of the Trump Administration and its programmatic and funding cuts, proposed or enacted, Housing Works has charged to the forefront of advocacy efforts to protect what our community has built so far and keep up the momentum in ending AIDS. Housing Works places the client at the center of its one-stop-shop, comprehensive services, addressing needs ranging from housing to PrEP education. The nonprofit’s stability is supported by “three pillars”: in their own words, relentless advocacy, lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses.
Chael Needle: Do you feel a greater sense of urgency to form a team and do the Braking AIDS Ride this year? If so, why?
Jack Mackenroth: Of course anyone working in HIV/AIDS or any healthcare related field is panicking because of the idiot in the White House, the rollback of health care and attacks on groups like Planned Parenthood. I think we (non-Trumpers) quickly realized that until sanity is restored in our government that we have to step up and do it all by ourselves. I have had HIV for twenty-eight years, so I’m pretty sure that’s a pre-existing condition.
It will be interesting to see how fundraising compares to 2014. I know I have given hundreds of dollars to Democratic/anti-Republican causes. But these are real issues that are more important than just about any elective expense. We literally have to keep giving until it hurts. I hope people see that this also applies to HIV. The GOP will not help us!
How do you see your role as team leader?
I try to lead by example. I’m not a cyclist and I’m not twenty-five—so it’s a real physical challenge. But it’s so rewarding. And it makes your ass look amazing. I also help my team know when to attend training rides, go to spin classes (we are partnering with Monstercycle.com). I can also help find bikes and equipment to borrow if that is an issue.
I’m also quite the master at fundraising so I help them out with that. It’s all about being creative. I will be getting naked a lot like I did in 2014. I have a few auctions planned. And I already have a $10,000 commitment from Hornet, my fave gay social app. Hornet is doing a donation match later this summer—where they match any donation up to 10K. [Stay tuned for details about when that donation match will be live.]
It’s a short time commitment, but what would you say to encourage someone who is hesitant about training or completing the ride?
Well first of all I want to stress that it is not a race—it’s all about fun and encouragement. You meet amazing people—most other riders are first timers as well. There are rest stops every fifteen miles. There is no judgment. Period. Some people don’t finish each leg of the ride. It’s really about raising much-needed funds when we are at a time in history where we are really slowing down the rate of HIV transmission in many U.S. cities. If we don’t keep the momentum going then we will backslide and lose the progress—and this does not even begin to address the epidemic horrors in other countries. We have all the tools to stop the virus. Now we just need money.
—Reporting by Chael Needle