Marquis Mitchell, founder and president of Souljas Progression, Inc. and Sandee Taylor, meditation coach, together run a non-profit afterschool gardening program for elementary and middle school-aged students at Optimal Christian Academy in Compton.
The once barren area has become a plant paradise for this young community of gardeners, who learn the basic tools for growing their own food, as well as planting and cultivating beautiful flowers and trees.
Sentinel photojournalist, E. Mesiyah McGinnis, asked Mitchell about the impetus of such a program in Compton and the goals of his organization, Souljas Progression. In response, the president shared the following insight.
“Souljas Progression teaches the Garden Clothes Afterschool Garden Program at Optimal Christian Academy. During the heart of COVID, we were called in to transform the school’s gardening area into an exciting place of growth and development.
“The children have nicknamed it ‘Disneyland.’ Uninterrupted, not harassed, the garden gives these energies a place to be planted as they are discovered through that energy. We usher these energies not with commands, but rather, in agreements,” Mitchell explained.
“Garden agreements include: Agree to Listen, Agree to Learn, Agree to Share, Agree to Give, and Agree to Love. Students learn about the growth and development of a seed and how to identify the seed inside themselves.
“Garden Clothes is a place where we invite students to discover their seed by how they identify with their garden, peers, and ultimately themselves. Ushering that energy of that seed from within, Souljas Progression is a presence, not enforcers pointing that energy to purpose found in the garden,” he said.
“We strongly believe if we give students the tools to cultivate their gift by how they are able to connect it to their environments, great things will happen. With our possible, God will do the impossible with the rest.”
Mitchell noted that all students have benefitted from learning in the Garden Program. He observed that students with learning differences thrive in the Garden with hands-on activities and exploration. The environment not only provides a space to learn about ecology, but also is a place for students to process and heal from their peers and home life.
“In and outside of the Garden, Souljas Progression believes the more we are able to identify the seed inside, and in our environment, the more we will be able to be planted in purpose,” expressed Mitchell.
Also, he mentioned that the Garden Program is “seeking faithful volunteers committed to maintaining the garden and it’s ever thriving culture.” In addition, funding is needed to maintain and cultivate the fruit trees, vegetable plants, and flowers, which Mitchell describes as “a thriving learning space for K-8th grade students in Compton, California.”
Future plans include pursuing the students’ interest in growing watermelon and corn along with providing materials to help students expand the Garden into their homes and neighborhoods. Weekend community clean-ups and garden days are being considered as well.
Other activities for the students include baking and cooking – skills that will aid them in becoming future scientists, bakers, chefs, restaurant owners, engineers, and leaders in the community and the world. But to fulfill their future goals, Mitchell hopes to solicit more contributions from volunteers.
“Donations, no matter how big or small, help us provide support in the places where our current food system lacks in distribution and access. Garden Clothes is about identifying the seed within, the answer found in that seed, and the future connected to it,” he said.
“It’s essential our future generation learn to identify their strength to solve problems, simply, by how they learn to show up in themselves, in their environments, and to their peers. Every child deserves to be seen and heard as they are,” asserted Mitchell.
“The Garden is a healthy outlet for students to learn and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Thank you for supporting Sowing Our Unity Love Justice and Spirituality at Souljas Progression.“