Date April 17, 2024
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Photos: Brown University community members sow seeds of healing at Simmons Center garden

Students, staff and faculty members marked the start of the spring growing season with a workshop at Brown’s Ruth J. Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — What hopes and intentions might flourish on campus and beyond in the months to come?

A small group of students, staff, faculty and community members convened on a sunny spring day at Brown’s Ruth J. Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice to make colorful beaded ornaments with their positive messages written inside to hang in the center’s Symbolic Slave Garden. The space honors the outdoor sanctuaries created by enslaved people in the small spaces beside cabins and huts on plantations, forests, swamps and gullies.

Workshop participants created the amulets by writing their wishes on paper, wrapping them in pieces of printed fabric and decorating them using ribbons and beads. They hung the works of art in the garden, where — as long as nature cooperates — they will hang for the next year. 

“We thought this would be a great way for people to have a personal connection to the garden,” said Brown junior Allyssa Foster, who is one of the students who maintains the garden and helped organize the event, held on Monday, April 15. “That is the kind of energy that we want to have in the garden, which is the community sort of healing you.” 

The small Symbolic Slave Garden was created almost 10 years ago by Geri Augusto, a senior fellow in international and public affairs, and is now guided by Simmons Center Communications Manager Kiku Langford McDonald.

A quiet space on campus, not far from the hustle and bustle of the College Green, it includes symbolic and indigenous plants, as well as four main elements: a Kongo cosmogram, a stone bench for contemplation, a bottle tree honoring the traditional African American form of yard art, and a flower terrace walkway.

Recently, a new garden student caretaker group, which consists of Foster and four other students, was created to maintain and grow the garden with renewed attention following the disruptions of the  COVID-19 pandemic.

The student caretakers led the event with support from Langford McDonald and Visiting Associate Professor of Africana Studies Renee Ater, who has previously offered similar on-campus workshops inspired by Sonya Clark’s Beaded Prayers Project.