In 1981, physicians at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), identified the first cases of “newly acquired immunodeficiency,” later called Acquired Immune Deficiency S
yndrome or AIDS.
Eight years later in 1989, noting a continuing dearth of services and support for people with AIDS – and having been personally affected, losing friends of their own to the disease – a small group of determined home video industry executives banded together to form a grassroots foundation, the non-profit Video Industry AIDS Action Committee (VIAAC), now known as Entertainment AIDS Alliance (EAA).
Marc Berman, a writer for Variety and Video Business, galvanized the effort. The Homestead Hospice & Shelter for AIDS patients in Hollywood, Calif., of which Marc was a board member, was being forced to close its doors due to financial problems. Enlisting friends and associates, Marc took action by organizing a fund-raising event that raised $15,000 for the organization which continues to serve the community today, and created the foundation for EAA.
Sadly, Marc passed away in 1993 from the effects of AIDS. But his efforts – and those of his friends and colleagues – have helped thousands of others. EAA has raised over $5 million to date, providing funds to over 150 local and national organizations, which address the needs of people who live with HIV and AIDS.
EAA maintains no corporate offices and its fund-raising activities are dependent solely on the resources of the home entertainment industry and their employees. As a result of this minimal overhead, nearly 80% of all monies raised by EAA are distributed to qualifying health care organizations and facilities.
Standing beneficiaries include the UCLA AIDS Institute C.A.R.E. Center, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), the Actor’s Fund AIDS Initiative, AIDS Research Alliance (ARA), AIDS Service Center, Common Ground, and the Los Angeles Jewish AIDS Services.
In 1995, to help meet the critical needs of people from the home entertainment industry who have AIDS, EAA established the Marc Berman Financial Assistance Program and have distributed emergency assistance funds to individuals of $120,000. The program is administered by Los Angeles-based Aid for AIDS.
Today, an executive coordinator, a part-time position created in 1998 and the group’s only paid contributor heads EAA. Fund-raising efforts include the annual EAA Visionary Honors, acknowledging those who support the group’s efforts; Red-Ribbon Raffle; an Evening of Wine & Wisdom including the annual EAA Silent Auction; among others.
Reacting to the needs of communities across the country, EAA donates funds to a variety of institutions that conduct research for AIDS treatment and prevention; organizations that provide client services to sufferers; and lobbyist groups which promote public policy that advance AIDS issues. All beneficiaries are non-profit organizations, which have been evaluated for financial management.
In 1994, EAA was inducted into the Video Hall of Fame. Listed among numerous industry luminaries, EAA is the first organization to receive this prestigious honor.
Looking Ahead …
It has been over a quarter of a century since the first reported case of AIDS. Although EAA and others have made significant progress in this battle, there remains a long way to go.
More than 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, nearly 900,000 of them in the U.S. Every year, another three million men, woman and children die and another five million are newly infected. Half of all new infections in the U.S. are among those under the age of 25 and 67% of those in the developing world are between 15 and 24 years old. The fastest growing segments of those who are newly infected are teenagers and women of color.
AIDS has claimed more human lives than all the plagues, wars, fires, floods and earthquakes in human history. And while more people become infected with HIV/AIDS each year than with any other single disease, the financial commitments of governments to find a cure, both in the U.S. and abroad, continue to decline.
Lack of education and the extreme financial burden of existing treatments stymie efforts to control this global epidemic. And – perhaps creating the greatest barrier to preventing further infection and to providing adequate care, support and treatment – are the overwhelming stigma and discrimination of the disease.
Some of the most powerful efforts to battle HIV and AIDS are driven by the involvement of people living with, or affected by this disease (like Marc Berman) … and by the people who care about them.