The opening of the plaza gives the community more green space to host health and wellness activities.
By Jason Lewis
After a three-year closure, Leimert Park Plaza has been officially reopened to the public. The plaza is in the cultural heart of one of Los Angeles’ prominent Black communities, as Aminah Muhammad, president of the Leimert Park Merchants Association, called the area “Our cultural Mecca.”
The park was reopened during the Leimert Park Rising Juneteenth Festival, and Muhammad spoke about the importance of having green space.
“It provides a place for children and family to connect with nature,” she said. “A place to meditate, focus, and connect; to seek refuge; to listen to nature. The spirit and energy in this park, in this village, resonates with your soul. Why do we love Leimert? Because it resonates with our souls. You come here and you have a feeling of freedom. You have a feeling of self. You have a feeling of self worth because this is our community. A park makes us healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.”
Since the plaza reopened, locals have been making good use of the park space. There is a free yoga class every Sunday morning at 11 a.m. in partnership with the African Market Place & Drum Circle. Yoga instructor Beliu Kefelew, who is known as Semayawii, was compelled to share her talents with people in her community.
“This space, particularly for me, has been very healing,” she said. “All of these vendors and merchants are coming together in the sake of community, and really trying to build up our wealth as a community, and also our health as a community, which is the foundation. So I decided to start teaching yoga here with the help of some non-profits, like Leimert Park Village Vendors and Africa Town. Together we’re creating a space and showing the great amount of love that’s here in this space; and how imperative it is to keep it.”
The class is one hour and people of all ages and fitness backgrounds are welcome to attend. Follow @Semayawii on Instagram for more information.
Also utilizing the plaza are two jump roping groups. Melanated Jump Squad (MJS) and L.A. Angels Double Dutch Club typically practice in Leimert Park, and the plaza gives them a safer place to practice and perform.
“Leimert Park Plaza is a dear place to us,” said MJS’s Courtney Tell. “We gather, we laugh, we love and we thrive here. Having the plaza re-opened is like releasing the chains from around our feet. We can be free to jump & co-exist with our people in a safe, fun, & loving environment. It’s empowering and it motivates us to continue on our path of healing our community the way we know how.”
“The opening of the plaza is important for MJS because it provides a space for us to feel free to connect with our people and provide fitness, fun, and empowerment in a community village vibe,” said Sharalle Horn. “We benefit from it when we see the smiles on the faces of all the people of various ages coming to jump for fun, fitness, to reconnect with their inner child, or even try for the first time.”
Opening the plaza to the public was one of Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas’ priorities.
“The opening of the gate means that there is unity in the community. Leimert Park Village is on the rise again. This is going to be one of LA’s premier destination points.”
The plaza’s reopening is one part of a larger vision by 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.
During its years plus hiatus, Leimert Park Plaza 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, 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.
“Just about two months ago there were 75 or so people here experiencing homelessness, houseless, and now they are on their way to transitional housing, permanent housing, and no one came in a black and white (police car) to deal with that,” he said. “We did it ourselves with merchants, the vendors, and the community.
“You cannot get well in a cell. You need a hospital environment, you need behavioral health.”
The efforts to address the homelessness issue includes mental heath and substance abuse services.
Ridley Thomas is committing $35 million-$40 million in improvements to Leimert Park Village.