As part of Whitman-Walker’s 40th anniversary, officially January 13, 2018, we’re sharing 40 stories to help tell the narrative of Whitman-Walker in community. Today, please meet Kermit Turner, a patient, supporter and friend of Whitman-Walker. Partly growing up in the “Shell Pile” of New Jersey, and partly in Annapolis, MD, Kermit was the first Black page at the Anne Arundel Public Library. He composed music throughout high school and college and got his first HIV test at Whitman-Walker. Kermit’s journey with healthcare includes holistic healing, lymphoma, mistreatment and finding a partnership with his doctor that worked for him. Kermit has served on the Ryan White planning council, worked in housing advocacy, and provided condoms and informal sex education to young people in his community.
Click the orange play button below to hear Kermit’s September 20, 2017 oral history – a recorded interview with an individual having personal knowledge of past events. Thank you to the DC Oral History Collaborative for supporting the collection of this oral history.
Five Quotes from Kermit’s Oral History
On Black Communities in the 1960s:
“Now mind you, I want to point out something about the black community, particularly at that time. Basically, the saying goes something like this: When black people travel (at least in that time) they traveled from ghetto to ghetto. That meant – in this case, the time was – Port Norris, Washington, DC, and Annapolis, Maryland. Of course, there were some other little locations along the way, but those were the three points.
What this meant was people moved around from those three points for various reasons – whether it was for work or whether it was because of matrimony – people just moving around, you know? So, everybody knew everybody in those circles, and it was no big deal for people to know other people from other towns. That probably wouldn’t happen today.”
Kermit in the living room of his Northwest, DC home.
On Getting Tested for HIV in 1989:
“I just felt I needed to go get tested. I just began to hear certain kinds of – you know, people whispering and stuff. You know, ‘What do they know that I don’t know,’ that sort of thing. ‘I need to go find out what is going on.’ So that’s what got me to get tested.
[Interviewer: “You didn’t fear the stigma?”]
“No, and this is the reason why: Because I’ve always been gay all my life, I didn’t have a stigma with that. I mean, there was stigma in the community but I never cared. I was always the kind of person where I never cared what anybody thought about me because I’m going to be who I am; I’m going to do what I do – regardless. That’s your little red wagon to pull, not mine. That’s the way I feel about it.”
On An Ex Who Learned They Were Positive:
“Butch committed suicide shortly after he found out that he was HIV-positive. He jumped out of the window at the old DC General Hospital and killed himself, unfortunately.”
On Finding the Right Medical Provider:
“I think that Whitman-Walker has a great staff. I know some people have – not everybody is for everybody if you will. So you’re going to hear some people who have statements about certain providers there, but that means that that’s not a fit for you. You need to keep moving on until you find somebody that is a good fit for you. I am very pleased with my provider, Dr. Ajmera. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s just been superb as far as I’m concerned. He’s been a good fit for me. He may not be a good fit for somebody else, but he’s been a good fit for me.”
On What He Hopes for Whitman-Walker’s Future:
“Stay on the trajectory that they’re currently on. When I first came to DC in 1978, Whitman-Walker was a little hole on a corner on Eighteenth Street and Adams Morgan. All they were doing was STD checks. Now, look at them. They have partnered with GW [George Washington University]. They are about to put up a new building, which they will own in-house. The staff has grown tremendously. They’ve become extremely professional. They are now a model – not only for the city, but some of the practices have become models for the country. There are certain things that they do that have become models for the entire country.
They help people with benefits, which is probably the most important thing I can see. They have really become very, very, very professional – unlike the experience that I had when I first got diagnosed. So, I am here for the long haul with Whitman-Walker.”
A peek at a small section of Kermit’s record collection.