Four Hours: Celebrating African American Culture In Leimert Park

Owner Marlene Sinclair-Beckford holding jerk chicken with rice and peas, steamed vegetables, festival bread, and plantains at Ackee Bamboo. Image: Francine Orr/LA Times

LEIMERT PARK (LOS ANGELES TIMES) -- Nestled east of Baldwin Hills, the neighborhood of Leimert Park considers itself the heart of black culture in South Los Angeles and pays homage to that heritage every day.
Though residents know that change is everywhere — with the Metro Rail’s Crenshaw/LAX line slated to open in 2020, fears of gentrification are rising, along with real estate prices — they are enjoying Leimert Park as it is while they still can. On the last Sunday of each month, the community turns out to celebrate black music, art, community and food at the Leimert Park Art Walk.
But you don’t have to wait to explore some of L.A.’s most cherished black-owned businesses tucked into the neighborhood.

1 p.m. After finding metered parking on Degnan Boulevard, head over to Harun Coffee at 4336 Degnan Blvd., where celebrities such as singer Rihanna, rapper Dom Kennedy and radio personality Big Boy have been known to stop by. They’re here for more than just the coffee: “More than anything, it’s a cultural hub,”says co-owner Chace Johnson , who formerly managed rapper A SAP Rocky . Johnson, who was a member of a rap group called Self Scientific and worked in the music industry for several years, also hosts free panel discussions and forums with entertainers and influencers at the coffee shop. Once you’ve grabbed some specialties of the house — an iced Kyoto matcha latte and a Mexican hot chocolate or caramel doughnut ( supplied by Donut Farm) that somehow, unbelievably, manages to be vegan — walk into the gallery next door, which displays artwork by a new black artist every two months. Harun also sells merchandise and features clothing from local designers. In fact, your drink was likely delivered by a server wearing a “ Make Crenshaw Great Again ” snapback made by a Crenshaw native whose clothing line is among those sold at Harun.

1:45 p.m. A trip to Leimert Park wouldn’t be complete without indulging in authentic Jamaican cuisine. To do that, head north on Degnan to Ackee Bamboo at 4305 Degnan Blvd., #100. It’s only right to try a traditional dish such as the jerk chicken or oxtail, which is served with rice and beans, plantains, steamed cabbage and festival bread, a slightly sweet fried dumpling. There are also several seafood options, including brown stew, which tastes as though it’s been slow-cooked for hours, red snapper, ackee and salt fish, and jerk shrimp. While you’re at it, you might as well order a Jamaican patty, a kind of flaky hand pie stuffed with your choice of chicken, beef or vegetables. That is, if they are not already sold out.

2:45 p.m. If you haven’t heard people calling out “Hey, Barbara!” at least a handful of times during your stroll, you haven’t walked far south enough to reach the community staple known as the California Jazz & Blues Museum, at 4317 Degnan Blvd. Barbara Morrison, a well-known jazz singer and adjunct associate professor of global jazz studies at UCLA, opened the museum to educate the community on prolific jazz performers and to share historical information about California’s influence on the genre. If Morrison is free, she’ll give you a personal tour of the museum and perhaps share stories of her experiences traveling around the world with legendary artists such as Ray Charles and Dizzy Gillespie. She may even sing a few riffs for you, which will quickly make you understand why she is respected in the jazz community. Morrison’s Performing Arts Center, which holds concerts, is less than 200 feet away, at 4305 Degnan Blvd., #101. Watch for upcoming events.

3:45 p.m. Head south on Degnan Boulevard to Eso Won Books, 4327 Degnan Blvd., a veteran bookstore that specializes in black literature. Anything from a coffee table book of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artwork to books by Ta-Nehisi Coates (who has called Eso Won his favorite bookstore) and just about anything Toni Morrison has written can be found here. Although fascinating artwork is showcased throughout the store, photos aren’t allowed. Instead, enjoy the jazz playing in the background as you browse the diverse books and partake in the knowledge of owners Tom Hamilton and James Fugate.

4:30 p.m. When you’re done, take a break in Hot & Cool Cafe at 4331 Degnan Blvd., just two storefronts down from Eso Won Books. With weekly community events, which range from open mics to free coding classes, Hot & Cool lives up to its slogan “Coffee and Community.” It’s also known for its unique teas, such as Gold Rush (black tea with mango and passion fruit) or Honey Bush chai tea.

5 p.m. This last stop is a bit of a gamble, so keep your timetable in mind: Back in your car, head east and drive past Worldwide Tacos, at 2419 W. Martin Luther King Blvd. This may look like a typical taco spot, but the wait to try one of the tacos or burritos — which come in more than 100 varieties — can take 15 minutes to three hours. The place is beloved by actress and screenwriter Issa Rae, who featured it on her HBO series, “Insecure.” If you have the time, do yourself a favor and throw it into park. Why the long wait? The owner, Fredrick Sennie, makes everything fresh, to his exacting standards, in the compact kitchen. Also adding to the allure and the wait: unique flavors, which include vegetarian options like vegan orange duck and vegan chili cheese beef; barbecue salmon; lemon pepper shrimp; and even weirder options including blueberry lamb with blue cheese.