About the Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument

By Nijel Binns

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2146 W. Adams Blvd. Los Angeles, CA. 90018
(323) 733-4868

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Thousands of African American women and men have succumbed to the ravages of HIV/AIDS since it was first identified in December of 1981. In June of 2021, a monument was unveiled in Los Angeles to remember those who have transitioned. The design and concept for what is known as the Los Angeles Black AIDS Memorial (LABAM) was created by Jeffrey King, Executive Director of the In The Meantime Men’s Group. The monument was actualized by the renowned Los Angeles sculptor Nijel Lloyd Binns. Mr. King’s design concept infuses three very significant symbols (the Sankofa bird, the tekhen, and a written statement) into one very empowering monument. The basic structure of the monument is a 6 foot tall dark granite structure in the shape of what is commonly called an obelisk. The ancient Greeks gave that name to this ancient Egyptian structure, but as is often the case, then and now, the new inhabitants of Kemet (Egypt) do not use the names that the people of that region themselves used.

In Washington, D.C. and in many major European cities around the world what is mis-named an obelisk is actually a “tekhen” and was used to instruct those who would march forward on the road to spiritual progress. From it’s base the towering, four sided stone pillar rises and grows smaller as it reached the apex. At it’s apex it suddenly made a sharp inward angle to form a pyramid. The tekhen or “tekhenu” as it was also called, was used by the ancient Egyptians to explain the “process of evolution of the human soul” that begins at the lowest or basement level, steps forward and going inward, rises up to the apex.A bronze Sankofa bird stands atop the monument, left foot forward. Among the Akan people of Ghana, there is a symbol of a mythological bird with it’s feet stepping forward, but it’s head is turned backward. The bird is called “Sankofa” which translates to mean, to “go back and get”. It implores Africans to reach back into ancient and modern history for traditions, customs that have been left behind. Thus the Akan believe that the past and the wisdom of those who have gone before us must serve as a guide in planning for and moving forward into the future. The Sankofa bird also holds another meaning in that it stands atop the tekhen with the left foot going forward.

From the early days when African American women and men in the LGBT community struggled to be heard and supported in their fight against HIV AIDS, they had to take to the streets to make their voices heard. Many people marched openly, or fought silently for justice. Theirs was just another example of what positive marches and protests for justice around the world can achieve. These lessons are not lost on people who have marched and protested the killing of George Floyd then or Daunte Wright now. You can see this movement for justice in every major city in the United States as well as in London, Paris, Iraq, Phillipines, Australia, the Netherlands, Berlin, Brazil and elsewhere. People who marched took literal steps forward to demand justice and create change. To show non-cooperation with the forces of evil is a simple and effective strategy for change. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. headed peaceful marches in the 1960’s. It was a strategy he learned while studying Mahatma Gandhi whose famous “salt march” was in direct defiance to British law. It was an act of peaceful non-cooperation that helped bring about liberation of India from British rule. It revealed a “soul force” within the human being that was capable of achieving true and lasting change.

The road to human evolution is not an easy one. It takes courage. The example of the heart being on the left side of the body and the left foot going forward is a symbol enshrined by our ancestors that says that it requires heart and courage to take the right steps forward. Kemet crystalized this attribute in the creation of their statues and monuments. The science and philosophy behind taking a step forward with wisdom and courage is exemplified by the Sankofa bird stepping forward “on the left foot”.

The third and final message of the Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument is engraved in the center of the tekhen. It completes a circle along with the meaning of the tekhen which is to go within and rise up to our highest point, and then with the Sankofa bird, to look backward for the wisdom of our ancestors. Now we come back down and are guided by the words of giving back which says, “Pouring Into Each Other.” This is the message for the ages. It is a real movement towards change and transformation. That is the lesson behind the Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument. The Greeks, the first foreign students outside of Kemet changed the name of this symbol and called it an obeliskos “small spit, or needle”. But the tradegy was that the Kemetic word tekhen was obfuscated and inveigled. To the word tekhen was added “ology” (the study of) to form the new word tekhen-ology or “technology”. Inharmonious thinking has rendered obscure what was originally a symbol for the inward evolution of the imperishable soul. Tekhenu-ology (technology) as the word is now used, defines progress in the development of external “things” such as electronic gadgets, devices, gene sequences, artificial intelligence. All of these things proved to be much easier to manipulate and transform than the human spirit.

The steps we as human beings must take, especially in these times, cannot be towards external achievements only. They will have little value in the days ahead. The Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument embraces tekhen-ology in the truest and most original African sense of the word and that means stepping forward, going inward towards higher spiritual consciousness. It is a message for all of us that as difficult as this is, we must be courageous and have heart, to take the right actions, and step forward with a righteous intent. We can stamp out the evil and ignorance but we must seek to do this first within our own lives while on the path to a true technological revolution of the human spirit.

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