Juneteenth celebration attracts a crowd as Leimert Park reopens

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LEIMERT PARK — The Juneteenth celebration here took on special meaning this year.

It was the first-ever national observance of Juneteenth after President Joe Biden signed legislation into law making Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17

June 19 is the day that the last remaining slaves, in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law.

It was also the first large event held in Leimert Park since Los Angeles lifted COVID-19 restrictions on June 15.

Degnan Boulevard, the nerve center of the Leimert Park business district, 43rd Place, and several surrounding streets in Leimert Park were teeming with people June 19, with throngs of revelers, community members, politicians and celebrities all participating in the first day of Leimert Park Rising’s annual two-day street fair and festival.

Leimert Park Rising described the event as a celebration of Black liberation built to educate, entertain and activate while featuring art, ideas and performances from local talent.

There were three stages of live music, live art, storytelling, food and clothing vendors, and a drumming circle.

Inside the park was a children’s area that included an arts and crafts station for face painting and crafting and a mini gymnastic obstacle course. Children were also able to ride horses and play with toy hoops. In addition, a story-teller pavilion was available for community seniors.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas led the grand re-opening of Leimert Park Plaza, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony before swinging open the gates and leading people into the park, closed since 2018, due to much-needed repair and an increase in homeless encampments.

Calling it a “day of remembrance,” Ridley-Thomas, who held court at the park’s signature water fountain, acknowledged Juneteenth saying it’s a “celebration of the vibrant Leimert Park community” and an acknowledgment of the ongoing need for equity.

“That’s what we lay claim to today, as we attempt to move it forward, to fulfill the promise of democracy,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Ridley-Thomas staff members said the city is working through challenges to bring life to a range of opportunities for Leimert Park Village, including supporting its vibrant culture and commerce, helping the un-housed transition off the streets, improving infrastructure, reimagining public safety and partnering with local businesses and nonprofit agencies.

“Equity matters – and it is our responsibility, as public servants, to make sure that communities of color have access to opportunities and resources,” Ridley-Thomas said. “As a long-time resident and elected representative for this community, I am committed to investing in this community and providing resources to uplift the village.”

New Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, who represents the Crenshaw District, was also on hand for the celebration.

“Leimert Park, the Village, this is where our businesses are, where our people are, where our green spaces are, where our drum circles are and where our roots are,” Bryan said. “So to have a Juneteenth celebration here is special, but we can’t just have rhetoric.

“We can’t just open the gates to the park, which is vitally important. We gotta move resources. We gotta help folks. Leimert Park needs even more investment as does the rest of Black Los Angeles. I’m here for it.”

Bryan said the community deserves “these kinds of green spaces.”

“We deserve places to gather and have fellowship and build together,” he said. “So, to open this park after years of being closed, on Juneteenth, it’s something our community needed, especially coming out of the pandemic. We needed another reason to celebrate and this is the perfect way to do it.”

“This is our town, this is our city, this is our community, and we’re opening it back up,” said Aminah Muhammad, president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association. “As free men and women, what do we want? Freedom, justice, equality.”

Muhammad, the owner of Queen Aminah’s Culture Clothing, said the opening of the park was important for the community.

“It provides a place for children and families to connect with nature,” she said. “To meditate, focus, connect and seek refuge. The spirit and the energy in this park and this village resonates with your soul. Why do we love Leimert — because it resonates with our soul? You come here, you have a feeling of freedom, of self and of self-worth. A park makes us healthier, happier and more fulfilled.”

Rosemary Thomas, an Albany, New York, native who now calls Los Angeles home, came from the valley for the celebration.

“I love seeing the people, the clothes and the food,” she said. “The energy that’s generated is wonderful. Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is admirable. But making it a holiday doesn’t necessarily change the minds of people about who they are, what they are, and why they’re here in the first place. Making it a holiday doesn’t make people more aware of who they are inside.”

“Opening this park and celebrating Juneteenth together is so important,” said Baldwin Hills resident Carmen Cameron, a vendor representing her wellness apothecary Uncle Leon’s. “The culture, the commerce. Being able to shop and share with each other is sacred.  This feels like home.”

Rep. Maxine Waters also was in attendance as was singer Lizzo, who supported Black-owned businesses by buying merchandise from several local vendors.