The Health Education Resource Organization (HERO) was Baltimore's oldest and largest HIV and AIDS service provider. It was the first grassroots community based organization in Baltimore to help people with HIV and AIDS. It was founded in 1983 by Dr. Bernie Branson in the waiting room of his eighth floor office at the former Medical Arts Building on Read Street.
Branson was a gay physician who treated a large clientele of gay men. The organization began as a small support group of concerned people meeting in Branson's office to discuss a new and horrible disease that had begun to strike some of his patients.
From its humble beginnings with a support group, a hotline, and a small grant from the Goldseker Foundation, it became a major provider of AIDS education and patient services in the state; it was an organization with a national and international reputation. The group's AIDS walks attracted 10,000 people at the height of their popularity, and the World Health Organization turned to HERO as a consultant as it worked to set up similar programs around the globe. In addition to its buddy system, which relied heavily on hundreds of volunteers, it offered a variety of other services, such as clinical, legal, education, and counseling services, a drop-in resource center, and even a place to do laundry and collect mail. In 1984, HERO held the first conference on AIDS in the black community at the Baltimore Convention Center.
The organization closed its doors in 2008 amid allegations of fiscal mismanagement, which impeded its ability to do effective fundraising. The building HERO occupied at the corner of Read and Cathedral Streets was converted to apartments in 2009. Dr. Bernie Branson has lived in Atlanta for many years where he works as a physician for the Centers for Disease Control. Despite the organization's sad demise, HERO should be remembered for the many valuable services that it offered to so many people.