Leimert Park merchants leader seeks united community

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LEIMERT PARK — Aminah Muhammad has been the owner and operator of Queen Aminah’s, a “cultural clothing” store in Leimert Park, since 2009.

The shop, tucked away on the southwest end of Degnan Boulevard, is filled with gift items and colorful, ethnic clothing some of which is designed by Muhammad. The shop, once called Sisters Marketplace, also has enviable African art once owned by her father, who was a collector.

Last January, Muhammad, affectionately known as Queen Aminah after being crowned Queen of Leimert Park in 2020, became the president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association for a two-year term. She chose to take on the role because she wanted to bring “a real sense of unity” to the vendors in the area, which is considered a cultural mecca for the Black community.

Muhammad moved from Detroit to Los Angeles with her twin sister, Denice Richardson, in 1974.

“When Motown left Detroit, it was a sign to us that it was time for us to go as well,” said Muhammad, a married mother of three grown children.

Once in Los Angeles, Muhammad and Richardson who now lives in Atlanta, were among the first Blacks to own a boutique, La D’ecouvert, which means The Discovery. It operated in Beverly Hills 1976-1981. They manufactured and sold mini-skirts utilizing the skills and talents of local fashion students.

One day, Muhammad heard the Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for the first time and her life was changed.

“I said, ‘Whoa, I gotta stop doing the things I’m doing,” said Muhammad, who also opened Crescent Books and Videos in the 1990s and also had a store on Queen and Market streets in Inglewood. “I stopped wearing short skirts, drinking and partying. I became a Muslim and joined the Nation of Islam. 

“It was an awakening. All of this was happening at the same time. I looked into African culture and longer clothing. I wanted to provide beautiful garments for the entire family.”

Muhammad is regal, personable, funny, a visionary and relentless when it comes to the success and unification of Black people.

Darlene Donloe, a contributing writer, recently caught up with Muhammad to talk about her new role as the president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association.

DD: Why did you want to be the president of the association?

AM: I saw a need to bring the merchants together in unity and to help the community in any way I could. In November, I was crowned Queen Aminah of Leimert Park. A queen looks at problems and tries to solve them. There is a quote that says, “A nation can rise no higher than its women.”

There were 200-300 people here on the weekends. At one point, it was a bit unorganized. There was a lot of free will. Someone had to help organize this. The Fruit of Islam became the security in the area to make sure we have peaceful, harmonious weekends.

DD: What do you see as your role?

AM: I want to see us working on one accord. We need to work to help each other. We want to make a difference in Leimert Park. My goal is to do whatever I can to make life better and keep it safe. We need to lift it up, make it a family-oriented place.

DD: What is your strength as a leader?

AM: With age comes wisdom. I hope I have something to share. My goal is to unify the community and the merchants. Once we unify, there isn’t anyone that can stop us. I want to help preserve the culture, like the drum circle, rap. I don’t want to change the culture. I want to keep the area righteous, decent and clean. We want it to be safe for families. We don’t want any fear.

DD: So, who is actually keeping it clean?

AM: We hire people to clean. The Fruit of Islam cleans for us. The merchants also help keep it clean. We called [City Councilman] Mark Ridley-Thomas’ office to help with the homeless situation. The homeless encampment was an issue for a long time. Now they have given them housing.

DD: The area is losing grocery stores.

AM: This is a food desert. Albertson’s on Crenshaw is closing. Ralphs on Slauson is closing. We do have a farmers market on Sundays, but it’s small and growing.

DD: You’ve been in Leimert Park since 2009. Have you seen any changes?

AM: I’ve seen a number of changes happen. The area has survived Metro and COVID. We have been through a lot. I felt as an elder and as a community activist and member of Islam that my job is to help my community.

DD: What are your feelings about Metro coming into the area?

AM: We pray and hope it will be an asset. The people on Degnan Boulevard were not compensated. The streets were shut off for months. It’s by the grace of God that me and Sika (art gallery/jewelry/African imports) are still here. They shut down Crenshaw and 43rd [Street]. You had to go blocks out of your way. I wasn’t happy about it. I’m blessed to still be here. I hope the Metro is a blessing. I hope it drives traffic.

DD: The Vision Theater is set to open soon. What do you think it will do for the area?

AM: I’m hopeful it will bring business and clientele of a different kind that we haven’t had in the area.

DD: I’ve noticed over the years that the parking situation is getting brutal. What can you do as president?

AM: Ben Caldwell (KAOS Network) is working on that. There is a cab service in the area that will pick you up, take you to the mall and bring you back. We’re hoping the busing service and cab service will be set up soon. With 300-500 people in the area on the weekend, something needs to happen. I would advise people to take Uber, walk over or get dropped off. This place is fun, so most people are here for three to five hours. We just don’t have enough parking.

DD: There is a lot of talk about gentrification. How are you approaching it as president of the association and as a business owner?

AM: What we have to do as a community is buy property in our own area and quit selling it. If I had to sell my property, I would look for someone Black to sell it to. We have to get to the consciousness of helping our own and doing business with each other. This is like a Black Wall Street over here. It’s not worth it to sell. We have to come together as family members and buy together with your family. It’s hard sometimes. There will be times when we all don’t get along, but ultimately we’ll be successful.

DD: What would you like to see happen in the area?

AM: We want to put on festivals and other events. We want to teach educational classes and entrepreneurial classes to the community. We want to uplift the community.

DD: Why is the community of Leimert Park important?

AM: I always said this is the last Black Mecca. We are the hub of the Black community in Los Angeles. You come here for history and culture. When you think of Leimert you think of family, history and culture. The merchant association is doing it for ourselves. That’s a great accomplishment right there. At one time, someone else was deciding all that and we didn’t have a say. Here in Leimert Park, we’re keeping the cultural history alive.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.