LABAM, the First of Its Kind

LABAM, the First of Its Kind

Honoring Lives Lost and Unsung Heroes

By Victor Yates

Mel Boozer, like a lighthouse, navigated the gay community closer toward the light of political change. Boozer became the first openly gay vice presidential candidate nominated by any political party. In his televised speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1980, Boozer stated, “I know what it means to be called a [n-word]. I know what it means to be called a faggot. And I can sum up the difference in one word: none.”
Yale-educated, university professor, Peace Corps volunteer, political powerhouse, and a contributor to the first national Black gay periodical, Boozer’s name should be as recognizable as Pete Buttigieg; however, Boozer died from an AIDS-related illness in 1987. AIDS stole a generation of brilliant minds from the Black community in the ’80s and ’90s. The Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument ensures that names like Mel Boozer will not drown in the ocean of obscurity.
In The Meantime’s Executive Director, Jeffrey King, and Cynthia Davis, professor at Charles Drew University, partnered to select a committee of local activists and leaders for a more community-led art project. Through their discussions, the monument, first a bronze water fountain and four benches, now will also include a granite tekhen (commonly referred to as an obelisk) and bronze Sankofa bird designed by Black artist Nijel Lloyd Binns.
Binns designed the Mother of Humanity sculpture at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, the Top Selling Artist of the Decade award for Michael Jackson commissioned by Epic/CBS Records, and a bronze bust of Marcus Garvey in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the African Union headquarters (to be unveiled in August).
In a meeting with the committee on April 12, 2021, Binns stated, “In Africa, we called [the obelisk] tekhen. We get the word technology from tekhen. In Kemet, the word means looking inside and up, to reach your highest potential.”
He continued, “The powerful image of the tekhen is enhanced by the Sankofa. The bird indicates the concept of moving forward while looking back to have a better understanding of where we are going. When we combine both concepts, very powerful symbols will be established.”
The Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument will be the first AIDS Monument dedicated specifically to honor the lives of Black people who have died from AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses, as well as AIDS activists, researchers, and service workers involved in the movement on the West Coast.

The monument will not only be physical, but it will also live in a virtual space. The website, BlackAIDSMonument.org, will include a photo gallery, video content, interviews, resources, and a scrolling list of names to build a larger digital memorial; therefore, people outside of Los Angeles can be recognized as well. People like Gene Anthony Ray, Willi Smith, Jermaine Stewart, Corwin Hawkins, Larry Riley, Sharon Redd, Katrina Haslip, Sophia Harrison, and Marcella Wright.
Later in the meeting, Binns added, “The words ‘pouring into each other’ will be engraved onto the tekhen.”
The water fountain will pour into itself in a continuous cycle. With the benches installed, visitors will be allowed to sit and reflect upon the idea of ‘pouring into each other.’ AIDS researchers and those who served on the frontlines of the movement poured into others, often when they felt depleted by the staggering number of deaths. Their collective efforts helped with prevention, awareness, and reducing stigma. When we serve, we replenish the community and move together like the ocean, ever-moving and unstoppable.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on June 27, 2021 at the Carl Bean House for National HIV Testing Day.

Victor Yates is a writer, editor, and writing workshop instructor whose debut novel, A Love Like Blood, was released by Hillmont Press. His website is victoryates.wordpress.com. Follow him @writervicyates.

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