We Love Leimert, resilient and proud
by Christine Kim·
A community-led initiative strengthening the heart of the community.
Leimert Park – South Los Angeles’s most storied neighborhood. Only one and a half square mile community in the Crenshaw district, it is an oasis of Black-owned businesses, art, music and radical conversations.The community has presence, it holds a name, it exhibits strength – it is a symbol of Black life.
Leimert Park is resilient – a place of refuge and magnet, storied crucible and cradle. Within the cultural capital, there exist numerous collectives of Black activists and community organizers calling attention to their roots and love for Leimert Park.
Today, we have the privilege of introducing We Love Leimert – a community-led initiative to provide sustainable opportunities for Black millenials, gen Z and elders within the community. We Love Leimert has created programs to encourage art and culture programs as tools for economic development and growth of the community.
Established in March 2019, the devoted and tight-knit co-founders Kaya Dantzler, Milan Wilkinson, Mychal A. Horn, Jared McGhee, Nijuel Porter, Toran Moore, Rachel Jackson, Mariah Austin and Brandon Walker envisioned providing “leaving the door wider than you walked in” opportunities for the youth to build skills in production, entrepreneurship, civic engagement and art.
“We Love Leimert is an intergenerational collective of cultural organizers working to preserve the cultural integrity of the Park Village and improve conditions in our village through civic engagement, public programming and digital storytelling,” explained Kaya Dantzler, one of the co-founders of We Love Leimert.
Thriving, energetic and collaborative are scratching the surface when describing the vibrant community. From the Art Walk to the West Afrian drum circles, there are a number of integral parts – it’s impossible to cover it all in a single day. What we discover here is the heartbeat of the community.
But in 2018, in response to the drug use and houselessness, a fence surrounded Leimert Park Plaza as a security measure. What once radiated spirited energy and magnetism stood still. Following this stillness was the death of Grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur and activist for his native South LA Nipsey Hussle on March 31, 2019. His legacy is remembered and honored by many.
The closing of the plaza, where the landmark Vision Theatre is located, stirred a communal sentiment throughout the community: the renovations were aimed to aid gentrification – catering to outside residents rather than bolstering local businesses and residents.
In response, cultural institutions KAOS Networkz, founded by Ben Caldwell, and LA Commons came together and established We Love Leimert as a call to action.
Ben Caldwell, better known as the godfather of Leimert Park, is an artist, director, educator, independent filmmaker and mentor. As founder of KAOS Networkz, a community media lab, and Leimert Park Art Walk, he supports and inspires the community. He practices the Sankofa strategy – a concept understood as the past serves as a guide for planning the future. Sankofa resonates within the hearts and minds of the community.
Believing in the spirit of the community, Ben requested a $20,000 grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs, which was later approved.
The funding supported local artists and art – further encouraging engagement through public programs.
Through this, KAOS Networkz and LA Commons highlighted the younger people to get involved – weekly intergenerational community meetings were established. This is a space for young and old folks to come together to discuss the importance of Leimert Park, what they hope to see done and reasons why they love Leimert Park.
“Essentially we got together because we want to invest in our community. We want to create more opportunities for people to come and join. We want young people to step up and work with our elders. We want to preserve our community and do our part to combat gentrification and displacement,” Kaya said. “We must preserve the cultural integrity of African-American culture in Los Angeles.”
With the grant funding, 2019 was marked as a resilient and rejuvenating year.
One of the earlier programs was a self portraiture workshop taught by up-and-coming muralist Blue the Giant, who also worked with infamous Jordan brand. The class was free, taught upstairs at Hot and Cool Cafe, and produced by a co-founder Mariah Austin.
Another program was in partnership with the Healing Circle LA. People came together in an intergenerational setting to talk about just about anything: life, hardships, struggles, relationships, family, etc.
In support of dynamic artists and community organizers, We Love Leimert assisted Six Sev, who runs the brand They Are Great Again, in his second installation Pray for the Hood.
We Love Leimert not only supported local artists and organizers, but also helped community businesses. They curated a public flea market that took place during the Art Walk every last Saturday of the month to promote millennial and Gen Z small businesses. A step further was the Sankofa Super Mall, which showcased local brands and entrepreneurs.
They were also involved in improving transportation. They did a partnership with Ride on Bike Shop and LA CleanTech to provide and expose people in the community to alternative, green-energy transportation. The clean transportation was beneficial during the pandemic when community members were able to earn money while doing jobs like DoorDash by utilizing the electric bicycles at a low cost. Be on the lookout for the golf-cart size electric shuttles provided by Circuit. (Or ride one, the shuttles are free!)
During the thick of the pandemic, they partnered with LACMA to produce “Leimert Park Live,” a mini-documentary series that explored the importance of Leimert Park. The series featured legendary Jazz and Blues singer, Barbara Morrison; activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors; and co-founder of We Love Leimert and daughter of Sika Dwinfo, master jeweler, piercer and seller of African art, Mahlon Wilkinson.
One of the more recent projects include their partnership with Fowler Museum at UCLA. The virtual public program was a space to ask influential elders, cultural leaders and figures the different principles of Kwanzaa and its significance.
And finally, their work with Destination Crenshaw is to build a database of Black women artists and business owners for them to receive small business support services and have access to loans.
Moving forward, We Love Leimert envision continuing to build upon the intergenerational solidarity – encourage people to work with the elders and empower the youth to engage in civic involvement.
It is the Sankofa spirit: learning from the elders and fostering young people to become social justice organizers. Keeping the heartbeat of South LA beating.
“We have the power to create the communities and environments that we deserve. There’s power in us individuals and there’s even more power in us as collectives and cooperatives. When we come together, we are stronger,” Kaya concluded when asked about her work’s message. “So that incarceration, oppression and all the ills we deal with can be solved by us understanding what it means to show up for one another and create different systems by moving beyond just critiquing the system – that is so incredibly broken – and creating solutions for it.”