[T]he greatest gift that people in our industry can give is that of visibility. If we can take action, we can motive people in the world to do so also.” – Jason Raize, BroadwayNow
In his first venture as a producer, Jason conceived and organized New York City’s first major benefit for victims of the war in Kosovo. The event’s main goal was to build awareness of the American Red Cross‘s 1-800-HELP-NOW line, through which people could donate toward relief efforts. Co-produced by publicist Robert Zarem, the benefit took place at the Kit Kat Club (Henry Miller’s Theatre; now the Stephen Sondheim Theatre) on May 3, 1999.
I came up with the idea because we needed to do something to alleviate the pressure of the situation in the Yugoslav region. As I watched the news every morning, it slowly became clear to me that we really needed to respond to the event[s] that are happening out of there. When you see the horrors people face, how their lives are being torn apart, there’s no way you can continue to your breakfast every morning without wondering what we can do as a community.” – Jason
The event featured performances and speeches from musician Isaac Hayes, psychosexual therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and singers Gloria Gaynor and Deborah Gibson, among others. Attendees included Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, record producer and composer Quincy Jones, and CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves.
While a complete list of performers and speakers was not published after the event, Jason told BroadwayNow prior to the event that participants would also include Kirk Douglas, Keith Richards, George Segal, Mort Zuckerman, Ingrid Rockefeller, Polly Bergen, and David Hasselhoff. In addition, Albanian ambassadors, New York congressmen and senators, and United Nations political figures would speak. BroadwayNow wrote, “Art Buchwald will wash dishes, Deborah Gibson will perform, Gloria Gaynor will sing ‘I Will Survive,’ Metropolitan Opera star Aprile Millo will perform an aria, Byron Janis will perform on the piano, and American Ballet Theatre stars Ethan Stiefel, Keith Roberts and Angel Corrella will dance several numbers.”
The benefit also received coverage in USA Today and may have been featured on an episode of E! Fashion Emergency (please contact me if you can verify this).
United Nations Environment Programme
“I did a lot of communication with the UN. I was always very interested in the United Nations as a concept — the fact that there is a group that unites most of the world, and we have one place where all of these countries can get together and discuss issues. Our generation takes that for granted. Past generations realize that this is not normal, and that countries didn’t always get together and communicate like this.” – Jason
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) designated Jason a Goodwill Ambassador in October 1999. According to a UNEP press release, Jason’s appointment had been based upon “his commitment and dedication to furthering the cause of the environment through the use of his creative talents to inspire respect for our natural heritage and to promote the conservation and sustainable use of the earth’s resources.”
Then 24 years old, Jason was the youngest individual ever to receive this honor.
UNEP officially announced Jason’s appointment on October 26, 1999, at the WILD Awards for environmental responsibility in the private sector. Adnan Amin, Director of UNEP’s Regional Office for North America, told the crowd that The Lion King promoted saving the environment and preserving endangered species, and that Jason’s ability to connect with audiences of all ages, paired with his dedication to environmental causes, would help these issues become more real to people. He also pointed out that UNEP had a special affinity for Simba: the name meant “lion” in Swahili, an official language of Kenya which is where UNEP is based.
When Jason spoke at the October 1999 awards ceremony, he stressed the importance of raising awareness in order to protect the environment. He believed that his work enabled him to communicate with diverse people, in particular the young generation. The event concluded with Jason performing a number from The Lion King.
Jason appeared at several events associated with UNEP, including the UNEP International Photographic Competition on the Environment 2000 Gala (pictured) and the 2001 WILD Awards presented by UNEP, the WILD Foundation, and Animal Planet. He was also listed as a scheduled performer at the World Wilderness Congress in South Africa in November 2001.
Jason’s television show Keeping it Wild with Jason Raize enabled him to bring additional attention to the environment and endangered species. In fact, Jason scheduled the show’s premiere party in fall 2001 at the UN Headquarters in New York.