Juneteenth in Leimert Park — a time for celebration and reflection

Three dancers in a crowd
Zoria Gardner, left, Kaylen Brown and Phynnesc Jackson of the Victory Dancers Crenshaw District dance team perform at Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration in Leimert Park.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Kennedy Marshall brought her friends to the Leimert Park Juneteenth festival on Saturday to enjoy the music and the food.

She also came to reflect on being Black and to buy from Black-owned businesses — something she said is particularly important in 2022.

Two years after the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the continued trials of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Black residents are grappling with the racial inequities that still exist, while eager to celebrate their culture and accomplishments.


“I’m here to support Black people and Black joy,” she said.

A man playing percussion in a drum circle
George George plays with a drum circle at the Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

All the way down to Stocker Street, the smell of sage and hot dogs wafted far past the main festivities.

Performers including Smino, Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin filled the neighborhood with celebratory Black music. Traditional drums provided a background beat.

Hundreds walked down Crenshaw Boulevard, which was closed to traffic, to eat, dance and shop, as well as to reflect on Juneteenth — now an official U.S. holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were informed that they were free.

Black-owned businesses, from ice cream vendors to breweries to jewelry makers, hawked their wares. So many applied to be vendors that the Juneteenth organizers had to close the list.

A person dancing in a crowd
Tiya Like Fiya of Columbus, Ohio, dances to a drum circle at the Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Michelle Edeins was selling skincare products, including balms and sprays to treat eczema.

Her own journey with the skin disease led her to realize its prevalence among people of African descent.

“I know there’s a lot of people who don’t know how to take care of their skin, so I wanted to come out here and support Black people and help raise awareness,” she said.

Malachiii performs at the Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival in Leimert Park Village.
Malachiii performs at the Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival in Leimert Park Village on Saturday.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Another vendor, Tawanda Sanon, said she looked forward to forging connections with the Black community, whether customers or fellow business owners.

She started Mora Glam Collection with her daughter.

“We all want to get our business out there and network,” she said, nodding toward her plant-based, cruelty-free skin care products, from hair growth bundles to soap boxes.


From the stage, some highlighted how far this country still is from achieving racial equality.

One speaker displayed wood panel adorned with the biography and face of Denmark Vesey, the leader of an enslaved group’s revolt in Charleston, S.C., in 1822.

Michael Simpliss sells his wares
Michael Simpliss sells his wares at the Leimert Park Juneteenth Festival.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t think we have 400 minutes to go through 400 years of history, but you can Google it,” he said.

Leimert Park has long been a center of Black life in L.A. People gather in its main square at times of celebration, mourning and protest. On Degnan Avenue, cafes, bookstores and performance venues have been cultural touchstones.

Gentrification and changing demographics have diminished other African American communities in Los Angeles, yet Leimert Park remains majority Black.


Some want to celebrate that by changing Leimert Park’s name to Africa Town.

They point to Little Ethiopia, Thai Town, Little Armenia, Little Bangladesh, Historic Filipinotown — neighborhoods whose names reflect their roots.

“Everybody knows our origins come from Africa,” Kevin Wharton Price, a leader of the Africa Town Coalition, told The Times in 2018. “And Africa speaks specifically to our experience.”

Pan-African flags flew throughout the Juneteenth festival.

Willy Keller, who wore a Leimert Park pride shirt colored with the red, black and green of the flag, supports the Africa Town name.

“Everyone else has it, yeah? And we were here first,” he said. “My only question is why it’s taken so long for us to have a place with a name of our own?”

Martha Hibbitt, who lives in the neighborhood, wants to stick with Leimert Park.

As she walked with a friend down Degnan Avenue, she noted that the neighborhood is the center of Black life in L.A. — and a different name wouldn’t change that.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said.