September 27, 2018 at 8:51 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Whitman-Walker’s past, future celebrated at 40th gala
Whitman-Walker gala, gay news, Washington Blade

Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon and Deputy Executive Director Naseema Shafi at Saturday’s gala. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A plan to expand operations to underserved communities east of the Anacostia River was among the news that surfaced at Whitman-Walker Health’s 40th Anniversary Gala and fundraiser held Sept. 22, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown D.C.

More than 430 people turned out for the event, which raised just more than $350,000 to support Whitman-Walker’s work, according to Whitman-Walker spokesperson Abby Fenton.

Among those attending was D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who thanked Whitman-Walker for its “outstanding service” to the overall D.C. community as well as the LGBT community.

Also attending were D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson; former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, who served for many years on the Whitman-Walker Board of Directors; and Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

NBC 4 meteorologist Chuck Bell, local entertainer and “Ask Rayceen” host Rayceen Pendarvis, and Helen Hayes Award-winning actress Holly Twyford served as masters of ceremony at the gala. The singing group Betty and an ensemble of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington called GenOut Chorus performed at the event.

Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon and Deputy Executive Director Naseema Shafi drew loud and prolonged applause from the audience when they announced a major new initiative to expand Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson medical center, which has operated in Anacostia for the past 30 years. The two said plans are underway to move the Max Robinson Center to the newly developing commercial and residential center on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in the city’s Congress Heights section.

“As important as our past is, Whitman-Walker has much more to accomplish on the road to equality and social justice,” Blanchon told the gathering. “In D.C. we know that a major investment east of the Anacostia River is the most single important thing we need to do,” he said.

“This statement will show our commitment to addressing the issues of race and racial inequities throughout our city,” Blanchon said. “Therefore, with the help of the Whitman-Walker Board of Directors, in the course of the next three years we will deliver an expanded concentrated operations in the east end of the city – we will move the Max Robinson Center to the campus of St. Elizabeth’s.”

St. Elizabeth’s, a once federally run psychiatric hospital, remains on the site but has been greatly downsized over the past 30 years as the mental health profession throughout the nation moved toward deinstitutionalization of patients. About half of its vast campus is now owned by the D.C. government and is being transformed into a major commercial and residential center. A new sports and entertainment arena that will serve as a practice facility for the Washington Wizards and Mystics just opened there.

With that as a backdrop, Whitman-Walker’s plans to expand and move its Max Robinson Center to the site are expected to attract significant community interest. Blanchon told the Washington Blade more details about the size and location within the campus of the new facility it plans to build would be announced within the next several months once they are finalized by the board.

“This project will allow us to provide the care for our patients in the communities where they live,” he said at the Anniversary Gala.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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