I am from Mississippi and know something about the season of planting, of seeing trees blossom and flowers bloom. Based on my musings, I came up with a topic for my first article, “Blooming Where Planted”.
So many of us are part of the African Diaspora. While some of us may hail from the Caribbean Isles, other states in the Union, or even from another continent, the set of our eyes, the strutting gait of our men’s walk, the graceful gliding of our women that famous models try to emulate and often times fail, the curve of our hips, and our full-bodied laughs place our origins in the continent of man’s beginnings on planet Earth, that so-called Dark Continent. Africa!
We may be from the city, where skyscrapers and birds compete for a place among the clouds. We may be from farms or small towns, where we have sewn and harvested crops that were not ours and which we reaped no rewards. Some of us are from thick and dark ghettos, where we were placed as if to suffocate us by depleting us of nourishing sunlight and fresh air. Some of us are from villages that meet and melt into a tropical sun and clear blue ocean, where the village does raise a child. But we all have the dark, rich blood of Africa flowing through us, uniting us.
As I thought more and more of how we are all united and how we can come from nothing and still become great, I thought of a flower I once saw growing in the dirt and debris of a discarded, beaten and dented top of a metal garbage can. The flower took root, grew, and bloomed in spite of its dismal and unforgiving surroundings. It grew as if that dark and dingy ghetto was the best garden in the world. The flower bloomed where it was planted, despite its low beginnings, despite the odds stacked against it.
In the history of man, no other race has suffered as the black race. We were captured, enslaved, and ripped from the arms of our fathers, our weeping mothers, and brought to a harsh and foreign land. We came in chains. We died in the Middle Passage. We were starved, whipped, raped and sold as chattel. We were not expected to bloom where we were planted.
Our color alone made others think for generations that we would not and could not succeed, that we were subhuman, ranking as low as a cow or a dog. Our color alone made us the hunted. We were mutilated, hanged from trees, and burned at the stake. We were barred from countertops and hotels; we were robbed of our heritage and our freedom. In the name of that institutionalized barbarism called slavery, we were robbed of our names, beliefs, and languages. We were lied to and lied on. We were denied the most basic of human needs and rights, all in the name of the lie called race superiority. We were not expected to bloom where planted.
But in spite of these terrible and terrifying beginnings, we do bloom where we are planted! Since the 17th century, no other race in the history of man has come so far, in so little time, gained so much, yet started with so little.
At Florida Memorial University, we were given a skinny sixteen-year-old boy from a minor tribe in a minor town in Nigeria. We gave the world Dr. Osi Iyalomhe. We were given a son of Jamaican immigrants, humble people but believers in God.
We gave the world Barrigton Irving, the youngest pilot of African descent to circumvent the world solo. He bloomed where planted.
We were given a little girl raised by Haitian nuns. We gave the world Dr. Rachel Raphael. We were given a quiet, gentle girl from Trinidad. We gave the world Miss Candice Trimm, the first Miss Florida Memorial University, who is now a successful obstetrician-gynecologist on her native island nation. We were given a skinny little girl from Jamaica, raised by her father and stepmother. We gave the world Miss Shaun-Pierre Hall, also a former Miss Florida Memorial University, and now a resident in Jacksonville.
We were given a girl from Coco, Fla. In her Zeta Phi Beta blue and white, she entered the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to study nuclear chemistry. We gave the world Miss Vanessa Sanders, one of the first blacks who received a Ph.D. in this program. These and so many other graduates of Florida Memorial University, the best-kept secret in South Florida, bloomed where they were planted.
Do not allow your circumstances to dictate where you will go in life. Do not let your attitude determine your altitude. Do not dismiss anyone who comes before you.
Mr. Michael Horne was one of my first students whom I taught at Florida Memorial University. I love telling this story for the very reason I am writing this article.
Mr. Horne took physical science with me. Physical science can be a difficult course, with mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and even geology and astronomy. I wanted my students to learn it all, so you can imagine how tough my exams could be.
I did not know Mr. Horne’s name that first exam, but this person made an “A” on the test. On the second test, again, this Michael Horne made an “A”. Now, I did not know him at the time. But I do remember clearly a young man who sat in the front of the room, wearing his baggy pants, his braids, and his gold teeth. He never said anything, and I don’t recall his ever asking or answering a single question. But his very appearance gave me pause. His dress and stance told me, ‘Stay away.’
By the third exam, still not knowing who this Michael Horne was, who, by the way, made another “A” on the exam, I held his exam until everyone else had received theirs, and I called Mr. Horne up for his paper. You know the answer now: He was the young man with the braids, the baggy pants, and the gold teeth. He bloomed where he was planted and did not let my disposition influence his position. By the way, he was graduated with honors, is a successful entrepreneur, and we are close friends. He bloomed where planted.
We have to keep these words in our mind and write them in our heart. We have the roots and we can reach toward the sun, to the light. We have the water, but we have to listen to what Paul said in the Bible: ‘I Paul planted the seed’. That seed is the seed of success in the face of failure. He then said; ‘Apollos watered the seeds.’ Apollos nurtured the seeds to success, tended them. But, Paul said: ‘God gave the increase. That is, you can plant a seed of success, water that seed of success but in order for it to grow, you must rely on God’s grace and blessings.
With God, all things are possible. God caused the plants to grow. Believe in God and believe in yourself, so that where you are planted, you will bloom!
About Rose Mary Stiffin, Ph.D.
Rose Mary Stiffin was raised and educated in Indianola, Mississippi, notably the Delta hometown of the blues legend, BB King. She received a Bachelor of Art degree in chemistry from Mississippi Valley State University in 1974, a Master of Science degree in organic chemistry from Mississippi State University in 1981. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Tennessee in Memphis in 1995. She did her post-doctoral work at the world-famous St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn and has written several grants, including a $1 million dollar grant from NNSA to start a radiochemistry program and a grant to support the development of its sister program, radiobiology, funded by NRC. She is currently chair of the Division of Health and
Natural Sciences at Florida Memorial University, a small HBCU located in Miami Gardens.
Stiffin has written several short stories and had some of them published in the Imagine literary magazine. She also has been published in the Algonquin Quarterly (“The Water Buffalo and Pink Flamingo”) and in an anthology For Your Eyes Only (“Casino Blues”). She has written several novels, including “Walk in Bethel,” Reflections” and “Groovin’ on the Half Shell.”