Coffee, community, democracy – Leimert Park voting center is product of intergenerational Juneteenth festivities

Hot and Cool Café will serve as a polling station for voters in South L.A.

Hot and Cool Café, a fixture in the Leimert Park neighborhood, is serving up coffee with a side of democracy this election season after announcing that it will operate as a polling station for voters in South Central Los Angeles.

Many residents were concerned about fewer voting centers and drop boxes in communities of color. So Hot and Cool Café owner Tony Jolly stepped up and opened his doors to give community members a safe and accessible place to vote. Today, voters can cast their ballots at Hot and Cool Café from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. and tomorrow from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Turning the neighborhood café into a voting center probably would not have come about without two groups of activists, one younger and one older, deciding to join forces for the election. For the past 11 years, Leimert Park’s Juneteenth heritage celebration has commemorated Black liberation from slavery. But this year, organizers wanted to mark another important milestone — a bridging of the generational divide between younger and older activists.

The reaction to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis sent shockwaves throughout the country and prompted a nationwide reckoning. In Leimert Park, a neighborhood with a history of Black activism, it sparked a call for unity among the elders and younger advocates who traditionally vary in their approaches to civic action. In the past, the elders have tended to dig their heels in when younger folks have suggested new and unfamiliar ways of reinvigorating the neighborhood.

While age tends toward patience and youth is quick to passion, Floyd’s death made it all the more urgent that they pool their resources and host an event that embodied intergenerational solidarity.

This year’s Juneteenth celebration was the first of its kind in terms of scale and turnout. With multiple stages set up across the neighborhood and local vendors lining the streets, the music and culture festival was a joint project that pooled together resources from both older and younger community activists. The Leimert Park Rising x Pray for the Hood event was a collaborative effort initiated by Hot and Cool Café owner Tony Jolly, 45, and Pray for the Hood creator Six Sev, 23.

“Things haven’t stopped since then,” said artist K. Solar. “It’s just been collaboration after collaboration with Tony bringing in the young musicians to play every weekend… So yeah, I think Juneteenth was that light, that horizon like, ‘Oh, this is where we could go. This is what could be.’”

Despite the pandemic, the thousands who turned out for this year’s Juneteenth celebration have generated enough momentum to continue hosting more intergenerational events. With more outdoor performances happening at places like Sole Folks and The Alley, community organizers are confident that Leimert Park is enjoying a renaissance in artistic output and an increase in cross-generational collaboration.

“[It] was a convergence of energy that only comes around every half-century,” said Kaya Dantzler, an organizer for We Love Leimert, a community group working at the crossroads of arts, culture and civic engagement. “There was so much energy around being prideful in our Blackness that the older and younger generation were able to work a little bit more seamlessly.”

Leimert Park has always had a strong sense of community. Arts and culture shows were frequent prior to this year’s Juneteenth event, but young people didn’t feel that there was an event that represented their generation until Jolly and Six Sev stepped in.

“The elders … already had kind of the core of the event established and Six Sev definitely brought that youth empowerment, that youth aspect, to the table,” said Tru Sound, a local artist. “It shows the young folk aren’t just kicking in [and] hanging around. Everybody’s contributing.”

Jolly is a newer business owner, but his fervor to host a Juneteenth celebration during the pandemic rivaled the sentiments of some long-term residents who were hesitant at first. Amid all the social unrest, Jolly and Six Sev insisted that the people needed a day of rest, to take a break from the intensive fight against injustice and turn their love inward.

“He’s totally… stepped in to push new ideas and… methods to facilitate us coming together,” said Linafornia, a local artist.

While this event showcases a coming together of old and young, it also highlights their differences when it comes to laying the groundwork for activism. According to K. Solar, younger people are drawn to entertainment and tend to approach their activism through that lens. With more life experience, elders tend to have a better grasp of the logistics of organizing and are more willing to work with the red tape. On the other hand, young people are more easily driven by emotion and quick to act. Some may see this as a weakness, but others find the younger generation’s more aggressive tone to be an advantage in expressing a unified message.

Still further, this event points out differences in the perceived role of elders going forward. For Six Sev, Juneteenth showed that old and young are on equal footing.

“Although there’s a young energy to it, we still provide a platform for the elders to build upon,” Six Sev said. “It was a thing of bringing equal resources together.”

Other’s believe the event signaled a clear passing of the torch. For Badru Umi, host of The Overrated Truth Podcast, unity in the Black community comes from elders acknowledging that they have a different role to play when new players step into the ring. In this role, elders give counsel to the new decision-makers.

“You’re a coach,” Badru Umi said. “They kind of move toward enforcing the standard.”

Fernando Pullum, a long-term resident and director of the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center, is happy to see young people bringing new life to activism efforts.

“They come in with such a large degree of respect and productivity, and they’re here to build,” Pullum said.

Organizers remain cautious though, Six Sev said, fearing that with greater visibility come outside opportunists.

“We got [to] kind of figure out how to keep everything under control,” Six Sev said. “[We] don’t want the city coming in and regulating it and making it less of like a community thing.”

Nevertheless, Leimert Park residents remain hopeful that if people maintain an altruistic attitude the possibilities are limitless.

“There is a new future,” Badru Umi said. “With the new mind state, that new energy, this new influx of interest … it’s gonna make the perfect storm for that energy to be better than it’s ever been.”