Written by Crystal Cauley for The Urban News & Wilma Dykeman Project for Writers of Color ~
I consistently have curiosity about where on the beautiful African continent my ancestral roots reside.
The cost of ancestry tests on the market—and my budget—won’t allow me to open an envelope sharing the results indicating the “present day countries and tribes” I have roots with from a DNA swab.
The genesis of my lineage was forcefully uprooted from West Africa through being captured, enslaved, and countless exterminated. I learned how my mother, the late Marilyn Mills Cauley, creatively turned the potting process of plants into an outdoor history lesson. The oral stories of “back in the day” and Black Pride shoveled from one gardening pot to the next. I witnessed the strongest roots were not all broken; some remained deeply grounded.
This brilliant and talented maternal botanist would instruct me to study my genetic roots. The long days of sitting on the porch watching her work in colorful sundresses and sandals left us both mesmerized with her love of plants and being outdoors. My mother would always say, “Give me my flowers while I’m here on earth, I can’t smell them when I’m dead.”
Knowledge of root and plant anatomy is similar to enriching our lives with learning about our history. Roots of plants share similarity of how our brain absorbs learning. The root’s job is to anchor the above-ground part of the plant, giving it strength. The roots store food and absorb nutrients, helping with the photosynthesis process. Once the genealogy seed is planted in the younger generation, to have love for the rich history of our ancestors, great things begin to happen! When we know how strong our roots are, we can stand and hold ourselves even higher—similar to a strong stem needed to uplift a plant.
Repurposing the round terra cotta flower pots, transplanting the plants from the outside elements to indoor living spaces, was an annual tradition. The indoor aesthetic of our home was important to my mother, and using plants to utilize space was, too.
Marilyn would write poetic social justice in one subject and perforated personal notebooks. My mother did not keep the creative poetry of her creative masterpieces to herself. The variety of pots positioned appeared to fight for the best seat in the house. The audience included myself with massive green Elephant Ears, African Violets, Boston Ferns, Spider Plants, Begonias, and several air cleaning plants. The leaves of the plants stood out like human ears eager to listen to her words. The Philodendron Ivy hung around to listen while draping from the shelf to the floor.
Reminiscing, I know that I witnessed that the strongest roots were not all broken; some remained deeply grounded.
I am so very thankful that my mother intertwined her love for nature and my love for African history together. Creative writing, history, and plants are different, yet I find ways to keep my focus on learning important things—and that is the genius part of it.
The Wilma Dykeman Legacy, in partnership with The Urban News, supports and encourages writers of color to submit their writing for publication and recognition. The writing can be of any genre: fiction, non-fiction, essay, poetry, or drama. Submissions can address any topic, and will be judged on originality, content, clarity of expression, and creativity. Interested writers should submit unpublished works of no more than 500 words to The Urban News by the last day of each month. The winner will receive a $100 honorarium and publication of his or her piece in The Urban News. Submissions may be sent to The Urban News, PO Box 2038, Asheville, NC 28802, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.