Juneteenth 2021 not only marked the first official celebration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, but a community celebration to honor the rebirth and re-opening of a long-shuttered, beloved community asset—Leimert Park Plaza .
Leimert Park Plaza, located in the cultural heart of South Los Angeles, re-opened after a three-year closure. It’s reopening is one part of a larger vision by Councilmember Ridley-Thomas for Leimert Park Village that includes investing in local culture and commerce, rejuvenating the streetscape, and addressing the moral crisis of homelessness that continues to challenge all corners of the City of Los Angeles.
“As a long-time resident and elected representative for this community, I am committed to investing in this neighborhood and providing resources to uplift the Village,” said Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas. “My vision for Leimert Park is that we not only remain faithful to its customs, traditions and heritage, but also reinvest in programs that reflect the future we want to see. Through the re-opening of this park, we are pulling together as a community to make Leimert Park Village the strong, vibrant, culturally-enriched Afro-centric capital of greater Los Angeles.”
The lively morning ceremony, led by local talent, DJ Qwesscoast, incorporated a diverse group of community stakeholders—from members of the local merchants association, Department of Recreation and Parks officials, and others—to commemorate the beginning of a new chapter for the community and district at-large.
“This event is an opportunity to reflect, to get empowered and most importantly to celebrate black history and black culture,” said Alfred “DJ Qwesscoast” Torregano. “Leimert Park Plaza has been a monumental symbol in the community and after three long years it’s finally renovated and open for use.”
During its years plus hiatus, Leimert Plaza Park fell in significant disrepair and attracted a significant number of homeless encampments. But as part of his commitment to create A Right to Housing for the city of Los Angeles, and end homelessness as we know it, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas, in partnership with H.O.P.I.C.S. (Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System) succeeded in relocating more than 75 unhoused individuals in the area into shelters or interim/permanent housing in recent months. What remains is an environment newly imagined.
While Leimert Park is just now reopened, it also has a long history as the focal point for Juneteenth celebrations over several decades. “Queen” Aminah Muhammad, President of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association, stated that for her, the park has always been “a refuge and a place for reflection,” - leading event attendees in a chant of “freedom, justice, equality,” and imploring them to support neighborhood businesses, which includes Hot and Cool Café, Harun Coffee, Queen Aminah Clothing, and others.
Fully embodying the best of what the local culture of Leimert Park Village represents, “Mama Nae Nae”, leader of the Shine Muwasi Drum Circle, and her all-female team of drummers, opened and closed the celebration, providing a soulful soundtrack to the morning, thick with sounds of the African diaspora.
Capping the import of the moment and indicating the road ahead, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas stated, “Let us sit fully in the poignancy of this day, and not only honor our history, celebrate the progress of the distance we’ve come. As we open the gates anew to our beloved park it is only just the beginning of the journey we will take together.”
Leimert Plaza Park is now open and the park’s signature fountain is again flowing with water, though more repairs will be needed. In addition, Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who lives in Leimert Park, has promised more big changes for the area to come.