After a number of years, Whitman-Walker Clinic morphed into Whitman-Walker Health. It changed from being a small gay men’s health clinic often running on a shoestring budget to a thriving health center serving the entire community. That shouldn’t be construed to mean that Whitman-Walker has forgotten its roots because it hasn’t. But the needs of the LGBT community have changed along with Whitman-Walker.
That change is a big reason for changing the name of “AIDS Walk” to “Walk to End HIV.” Last week the D.C. government released its report on HIV/AIDS in the District and while we still have infections at epidemic numbers, the incidence of new infections continues to go down. With the right care people with AIDS can live long productive lives and we have it in our sights to end new infections.
Just after Whitman-Walker made its announcement of the “Walk to End HIV,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced his goal to end new HIV infections in New York by 2020. Many of us remember our first encounter with Whitman Walker. For me it was when a friend was diagnosed with AIDS and I called the clinic for help. Those were the days when many of us got up each morning and checked the obituary notices first saying a silent prayer we wouldn’t see another friend’s name. It was a time when going to funerals of young men seemed to be the norm and name after name got crossed off in our address books. It was a time when the majority of the money for the Clinic had to come from private donations.
With others I joined the Clinic’s Development Committee and we pleaded with friends to attend benefits and dig deeper into their pockets, which they did. Many of the donations were made in memory of a friend or loved one who died of AIDS. Thankfully things have changed and today the rate of HIV infections is going down. In the District, Mayor Vincent Gray has had success in his vision and strategy for bringing down the infection rate and Whitman-Walker Health has been a major partner in that effort.
In announcing the name change, Don Blanchon, executive director of WWH said, “This name change reflects a cataclysmic shift to what HIV is today — a chronic, manageable disease.” Dr. Raymond Martins, chief medical officer of WWH added, “When we say that we are walking to end HIV, this is not just a pipe dream. Even without a cure or vaccine, through testing, early detection, and a comprehensive care plan, we can create an AIDS-free city and hopefully be moving towards ending HIV. We have the tools and we know how to do it. Now we need everyone’s participation and support to make it a reality.”
This is an achievable goal and the incredible staff at WWH, with the help of a motivated community, will make it happen. Under the leadership of Blanchon, WWH has seen a stunning turnaround of its own. When Blanchon came to Whitman-Walker in 2006, the clinic was in dire financial trouble. Founded in 1978 as a nonprofit LGBT community health clinic it soon became a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s and ‘90s as the AIDS epidemic was at its height. But as the 21st century arrived there was continuing evidence that the clinic could not continue on the same path or it would eventually have to close its doors. Blanchon led a turnaround that saw WWC become WWH and go from being millions in the red to functioning in the black in just five years. He and his staff have built a health center for the future that will always be here to care for clients.
Now we can all help as WWH continues to lead the nation in moving to end new HIV infections. This year, the “Walk to End HIV,” formerly AIDS Walk Washington, will take place on Oct. 25 and as in previous years will begin and end at Freedom Plaza (Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th St., N.W.). Funds raised benefit the HIV programs and services of Whitman-Walker Health along with more than 20 community partners that provide critical services in and around the D.C. area. To get more information and participate in the walk, and help to reach the goal of raising $1 million and ending new HIV infections in the District, visit walktoendhiv.org
This column was first published in the Washington Blade.
Having spent much time in Rehoboth Beach for the past thirty summers it’s not difficult to come up with reasons to go. But along with everything else Rehoboth is now a thriving Gallery scene representing not only local artists but many from across the nation. What better way to spend a weekend then to head to the beach. Sun and sand during the day; a nice cocktail during happy hour; then stroll both Baltimore Avenue and Wilmington Avenue stopping in the galleries before heading to a great dinner.
For the next two weeks there is even more incentive to go because Jason Wright’s work in now being shown at Gallery 50 on Wilmington Avenue. The show opened last weekend but his work will be there through July 22nd. Jason is both a really talented artist and a really good person. His work has been shown in galleries from Miami to New York to Scottsdale Arizona. He currently works and lives with his partner in Kona, Hawaii.
Over July 4th weekend Jason was in Rehoboth Beach for the opening of his latest show titled “Vessels”. Jason’s paintings are dramatic and he creates that feeling through the use of geometric lines and complex perspectives. He has said he is Inspired by the dwellings in which we live, common objects, and the beauty of simplicity. His images bring to life many of the elements of our land. His pared-down images are distilled to their essence and portrayed with graphic style in precise shapes, bold lines and strong colors, giving them immediacy and vigor. He has a signature hard-edge style and often one can feel that he sees a beauty in isolation. His mediums are mainly oil and acrylic, painted with a palette knife. Jason has described his own work by saying, "I paint what I see. You can stand anywhere in the world, look any direction, and you will see hard vs soft, the terra with its hard geometric lines against the sky, and its fluidity.”
I first met Jason when he was studying painting and graphic design at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. While there he began his career illustrating and designing graphics for the surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding industry. That makes sense as aside from being a talented and accomplished artist Jason is a medaled athlete and skydiving instructor. I think he just likes the freedom of being in the water and up in the sky and the challenges that the sports he participates in represent.
Give yourself a summer treat and head to Rehoboth Beach.
Summer is often a slow time in the theater for D.C. audiences but this summer will be different. Opportunities abound for good plays and good music. One opportunity that I urge you to take advantage of is the chance to see and hear Nicholas Rodriguez on July 17th. At that time metro Washington will get to see a new side of Rodriguez when he brings his show The First Tim e… to the Signature Theater in Arlington for one night only. He will be joined by guest artist and Signature Theater star Nova Y. Payton who has thrilled audiences there as Effie White in Dreamgirls and as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray. Nicholas explores life, love and loss through an intimate evening featuring new interpretations of songs from the world of pop, jazz, folk and musical theater. If you have never heard Nicholas sing you are in for a real treat and an evening to remember.
I recently had the chance to meet and hear Nicholas when he performed as the special guest at a fundraiser for Congressman Mike Michaud(D-Maine) who is running for Governor in Maine. That is the kind of thing Nicholas is known to do. When he is not on stage in a show Nicholas is the Artistic Director of the Broadway Dreams Foundation faculty (www.mybroadwaydreams.com), volunteers for The Harvey Milk School in New York City, and SMYAL in Washington, DC. I first ran into Nicholas when he was presented with the 2011 Outstanding Community Ally Award by SMYAL. Nicholas is an all-around nice guy and the fact that he has been recognized as having one of the best voices in theater today and is drop-dead gorgeous are really only extra benefits.
Some of you may know Nicholas from his role as Nick Chavez on ABC’s “One Life to Live” for which he received the GLAAD Media Award, the 2009 Visibility Award, and, along with his co-stars “Men of the Year.” Or you may have seen him in his Carnegie Hall debut in a one night only concert version of Guys and Dolls starring Nathan Lane, Megan Mullaly and Len Cariou.
Washington audiences have gotten to appreciate Nicholas when he starred opposite Kathleen Turner in Mother Courage and Her Children at Arena Stage where he recently played Freddy in My Fair Lady and was also seen as Curly in Oklahoma! for which he received a 2011 Helen Hayes Award for “Best Actor in a Musical”. Audiences around the world have seen Nicholas in tours of Jesus Christ Superstar (Jesus), Evita (Che), and Hair (Claude).
For an enjoyable night in the theater I urge you get tickets, only $25, and not miss Nicholas Rodriguez at the Signature Theater on July 17th as part of their Sizzlin’ Summer Nights series.