By Cynthia Gibson
LEIMERT PARK — Business owners and long-time residents gathered Dec. 26 to celebrate the 81st birthday of Sika Dwimfo, whose iconic retail shop Sika has been a staple in the community for nearly three decades.
Keti Ciofassa, who taught West African dance at the Dance Collective in the 1990s, met Sika 28 years ago when he pierced her nose. She said that the store is like a second home and that Sika is an icon in the community.
“We call him the mayor of Leimert,” Ciofassa said. “It’s a joke, but it really is the truth, because Sika is the cornerstone of Leimert Park.”
Dwimfo, known by everyone as Sika was born Dec. 26, 1940, in New Orleans. One of his earliest memories is of visiting his great-grandmother in the Louisiana countryside and playing in her covered wagon as she and her children picked cotton.
Sika grew up in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles in 1971 to get away from the cold Chicago winters. In L.A., he met his longtime friend and business partner, Kahil Shareem. Both men were jewelry makers and sold their art on vacant lots in South Los Angeles wherever they could before Shareem found a store on Adams Boulevard for $150 per month. They named the store Jua Black Arts and Craftsman Guild.
Shareem, who turned 79 Dec. 23, said Sika and he are like brothers and people often mistake him for Sika. At the celebration, Shareem recalled 50 years ago when the two partners sold their art on the street together and opened their first store.
“We used to set up on Crenshaw near Burger King,” Shareem said. “Then we found a store, but the owner was skeptical that we could afford the rent.
“I said, ‘Here’s the money. We want the store.’ And that’s how we got started off.”
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Sika operated Jua Black Arts and Craftsman Guild along with Shareem and five other artists in addition to selling his jewelry at art festivals around the country. In 1992, after the festival circuit dried up, Sika opened his shop in Leimert Park Village on Degnan Boulevard.
He describes his store as “a nice conglomeration of everything you would want — home décor, clothes, art and jewelry.”
In addition to handmade jewelry and wall sculptures, Sika carries a unique collection of attire from African vendors in Ghana, Togo, the Congo and Mali.
Sika’s daughter, Milan Dwimfo, was 6 when her father moved into the store. She has fond memories of festivals in Leimert Park.
“It reminded me when you’d see a musical on TV,” she said. “It would just be Black people in the streets and kids skating through.
While some shop owners would not allow skating inside, Dwimfo said her father would let her and her friends skate through the store. She also recalls playing hide-and-seek in the dressing rooms of Marla Gibbs’ Crossroads Theater.
Dwimfo took over the daily operations of the store about four years ago. She plans on maintaining her father’s legacy going by becoming a master jeweler and making sure that Black people learn about their culture, even if they never leave Leimert Park.
“I want to make sure people still get a piece of Africa and learn what it is to be part of a Black community from someone like Sika who has been a part of Black communities in Chicago and here in L.A.”
Sika attributes his longevity to a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating properly and fasting. He has simple advice for young business owners.
“Pay your bills first and do not go out and buy a BMW when you cannot afford the repairs on it.”