Grace Lin, 23, paints a planter. More than 1,000 volunteers took part in… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)
With paint brushes, work gloves and comfy shoes, they came straight to the heart of Leimert Park.
More than 1,000 volunteers, some as young as 10, joined forces Saturday to give the historically black neighborhood in South Los Angeles a colorful face-lift. They fanned out across several blocks to paint light posts, plant a vegetable garden, erect street signs and banners, create a community mural and make African drums to launch a youth music program.
The day of service was organized by L.A. Works, a volunteer center celebrating 20 years of giving back throughout Los Angeles.
Yvette Diaz, a longtime volunteer, had never been to Leimert Park, but when she heard about the event, she rounded up a group of 24 people, including nieces and co-workers from the 99 Cents Only Store.
"We're 'Team Spirit,'" she said proudly. "We help one another help one another."
Along with others, her group transformed one corner of a parking lot on Degnan Boulevard into a mini silk-screening factory. They emblazoned dozens of T-shirts with "Leimert Park" to promote the area.
The eclectic corridor, lined with bookstores, cafes, jazz clubs and shops selling masks and art from all over Africa, has long struggled for foot traffic, especially since the recession. A local coalition is pushing the city to add a rail station in Leimert Park to the upcoming Crenshaw Line, but business owners aren't holding their breath.
Obinne Onyeador, owner of African Treasures Gallery, looked on with a smile as a group of teenagers painted clay pots along the block. Behind him, a sign hung above the entrance to his store: "50% Off. Everything Must Go!"
"This is good to see things more beautiful," he said. "But things are bad. No one wants to buy art when they need to pay their rent and bills."
Down the street at Eso Won Books, owner James Fugate also says business is slow. His space is full of books by legendary African American writers, but his customers are few. He dreams of a series of festivals that would attract crowds.
"I want to open the doors and have hordes of people waiting to shop," he said.
About a year ago, a Leimert Park Art Walk was launched with some success. It takes place the last Sunday of each month and features musical performances, film screenings, food and crafts. It draws a mix of shoppers from all over the city.
"It's created a buzz and people are loving it," said Aminah Muhammad, owner of the Sisters Market Place, a women's collaborative.
Between tasks, some of the volunteers were enchanted by the bohemian vibe of the street.
Toni Earle from Glendale said she planned to return, hang out and maybe shop a little.
"This place doesn't get the attention it warrants," she said. "But just look around. There's so much to do here."