Recently I was asked to write an essay for inclusion in the newsletter to clients at The AIDS Initiative of The Actors’ Fund. I thought I’d like to include it here – since supporting the work of The AIDS Initiative was what fueled the creation of Broadway Care/Equity Fights AIDS over 17 years ago and continues as our first priority to this day.
BROADWAY CARES/EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS was initially two separate organizations: Equity Fights AIDS, created as a committee of the Equity Council in December 1986 and Broadway Cares founded by members of the Producers Group in February 1988. In May 1992 these two organizations merged to become a new 501(c)(3) not-for-profit fundraising and grantmaking organization – BROADWAY CARES / EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS (alphabetical billing).
From its earliest inception, funds raised at Equity Fights AIDS were managed by The Actors’ Equity Foundation and pledged to provide ongoing financial assistance for the alarmingly growing caseload of entertainment industry professionals at The Actors’ Fund needing assistance to meet the then desperate emotional, physical and financial challenges of living with AIDS. The need became so great, so quickly that in April 1987 The Fund created The AIDS Initiative to address these client cases specifically. In June 1987 Equity Fights AIDS provided its first grant of $2,750 to the then fledgling AIDS Initiative.
At this same time, the mission of Broadway Cares was to award grants to AIDS service organizations in New York City and gradually across the country. In June 1988, Broadway Cares awarded its first grant of $20,000 to the AIDS Initiative.
By the time of merger in May 1992, Equity Fights AIDS had grown considerably and in five years raised and awarded $2,775,250 specifically to The AIDS Initiative, while Broadway Cares had awarded the AIDS Initiative another $200,000 in grants.
In those earliest years, the annual mortality rate for clients at The AIDS Initiative was over 35%. Sadly, the Initiative’s caseload remained about the same because the ever-growing number of clients was balanced by terrible and continued losses.
Today in 2005, times have changed.
Since 1996 with the advent of the protease treatments, annual mortality rates have dropped dramatically. But client intake has not. People still contract HIV, sero-convert and in some cases are diagnosed with AIDS.
Even with the best intentions and ongoing prevention/education campaigns, mistakes are made, accidents occur, the ramification of decisions impaired by drugs or alcohol have consequences even after a person has long been in recovery. Judgment is pointless. Prevention/safe sex education, important. But, ultimately, self-esteem is a person’s best defense and there is no definitive timetable for acquiring such an invaluable asset.
Until there is a vaccine, AIDS will always be with us – as will the work of The AIDS Initiative and BC/EFA’s ongoing commitment to meet its clients needs.
In those early days of desperation and despair, client needs were best addressed by short-term emergency support that allowed a person to die with some degree of dignity. Today the AIDS Initiative has developed into a more complex program of crisis management, long-term care and assistance in helping a client to live an active, fulfilling life with HIV. And sadly, some still die.
I understand this myself. I am also a client of The Fund.
After three negative tests in the 80’s, I was diagnosed HIV positive in 1993 after a terrible bout with addiction. The Fund saved my life, helping me through that dark period by addressing those addiction issues specifically. After a month in rehab I was back on track and able to deal with how my life would move forward reasonably and responsibly with an HIV diagnosis.
The meds aren’t easy. Anyone thinking they are a panacea for reckless behavior is a fool. I have been blessed in my body’s response to the protease medications that I began taking in 1998. I’m not a model patient, nor an obsessive T-cell “counter.” But it’s 2005 and I’m still here – no prettier, but hale, healthy and ready to work.
In the last 6-7 years, BC/EFA has expanded its support at The Actors’ Fund to include The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, the Actors’ Work Program, the Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, two supportive housing programs (one in NYC, the other in Los Angeles) and others. And, I assure you – if we can – there will be more of this kind of expansion of support.
In the meantime, I promise you – that BC/EFA’s long-time and original commitment to The AIDS Initiative remains steadfast. Even as the epidemic changes and people’s needs morph and/or grow – as long as we can sell a signed poster, BC/EFA’s assistance will be there for those, like myself, working in this industry and living with AIDS.
As proof, I offer simply this: From 1988 – 2005, BC/EFA has provided over $37 million worth of support to The Actors’ Fund. In 1992, no one could have imagined such a sentence.
Today BC/EFA’s embrace includes anyone – man, woman or child – in crisis, in need of assistance. But it began – and will always continue – because we were and are still moved to provide a safety net for those with AIDS.
As the I Ching says, “the superior man remembers the beginning.” Or in simpler terms, “from little acorns…” You know the rest.
So many of you have made so much of our work possible. It continues. I hope you will continue in it with us.