At five years old, Tony Burns sits gazing out of his front window looking onto a parade taking place on 6th Street Northwest, his hometown block. “I just remember seeing two individuals in a car waving to everyone. I didn’t know who they were, just that their hair was shiny and their car was shiny.” It was Jacqueline Kennedy and Robert Kennedy riding in the parade to the dedication ceremony for the Kennedy Park in Northwest Washington, DC in the early 60s.
Tony Burns was born and raised in Northwest Washington, DC. “My father was the breadwinner. When he was off on Saturdays he would take me downtown so that we could spend father and son bonding time together.” Tony was the oldest of six and the only son.
The fond memories of his father are all he has left. His father died when Tony was five. “The death of my father was traumatic to me. I didn’t understand the concept of death at five. “His life would never be the same.
Tony’s mother eventually moved on to another relationship, but that ended when Tony witnessed the new boyfriend try to kill his mother.
Escaping danger, she fled with Tony’s siblings, and left Tony to live with neighbors.
After some time, Tony’s mother found a permanent home in Southeast DC, and he was able to be reunited with his mother and sisters.
Tony dreamt of the day he would return to his childhood neighborhood where he could stay connected to the memories of his father and community.
With that in mind, Tony worked hard assisting attorneys at the Department of Interior to support his mom and siblings financially while also pursuing journalism and broadcasting degree at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).
In his early 20s, Tony came out to his family and friends as gay. His being gay was met with frustration and rejection from many of those he loved, including his mother. So, he left home.
Tony enjoyed his new freedom of only having to take care of himself. But on Friday, July 13, 1990, Tony tested positive for HIV. “I was 31 and the doctor said I wouldn’t live to see 60.” By 1996, his HIV became full blown AIDS.
Medications for AIDS made it hard for Tony to remain at his desk for long periods of time. By 2000, Tony could no longer work. Without steady income, he couldn’t afford to maintain his home, and he moved from one family member and friend to another.
Finally, in 2010, Tony was able to move into his own home with the help of Whitman Walker Clinic and Catholic Charities.
His new home brought much needed stability until mold was found in Tony’s apartment in 2014. The following year, doctors found spots on his lungs, and Tony was diagnosed with cancer.
Tony’s case was transferred to Miriam’s Kitchen where he could obtain the intensive case management and support he needed—including help finding a new home where it was safe to breathe.
During the winter of 2017, Tony met with his case manager, Isabelle Ruiz de Luzuriaga, at an apartment complex near Miriam’s Kitchen.
As Tony waited for Isabelle to arrive, he admired the beautiful high-rise building and recognized the complex was in the same location of his former workplace at the Department of Interior. “I stood under the awning in the front of the building as it began to rain. People were saying hello to me as if I lived there—and I actually began to daydream about how it would feel to live up here.”
In February, your support helped make Tony’s dream of living closer to his childhood home a reality.
Today, Tony is cancer free! And he has been giving back to the community—serving as a mentor for Whitman Walker’s +1 Peer Mentor Program, which he was a founding member. He also sits on George Washington University’s Cancer Community Advisory Board (CAB) as a patient advisor for cancer projects and initiatives.
“It’s so nice to see Tony around Miriam’s Kitchen knowing he is our neighbor. Like Tony, many of our guests living with compromised health conditions are able to regain stability once they’re house. Our work always focuses on helping people return to community, whatever that might mean to them. Seeing Tony live and volunteer in the community he loves helps solidify that sense of community,” said Kierstin Quinsland, Director of Permanent Supportive Housing.