If ever I imagined my 36 year and what I would be up to, never did I believe that I’d be in a position to write this invitation to dream with me a rural refuge for the urban weary in the town of Blythewood, located in the sand hills of South Carolina.
Named after my late aunt Olive Saloma Dameron, SALOMA ACRES aspires to be a Black-owned equestrian and cultural center. A gathering space. Another outdoor home for you.
I come from a family of Black Americans who migrated in the first half of the 20th century from their rural homesteads in McDuffie County, Georgia and Horry County, South Carolina to the suburban “promised land” of Columbia, South Carolina. There, my maternal grandparents were able to purchase a plot of land, and when I came, I watched in their later years, a return to their source—on the quarter acre lot in a Black residential suburban neighborhood on a cul de sac of 19 houses, my grandparents erected a homestead: there they raised ducks, rabbits, chicks. My grandfather transformed an old bathtub into a pond, and rotated his vegetable garden predictably every season. I begged to go over there because that’s where all the action was—outside, and at my grandparents house. I recall days walking the rows of tomato and squash and cucumbers; my fingertips sticky-red from picking strawberries he grew in an old gas barrel. He died in 1997, but every time I stick my hands in soil, I think of him. Every time I pick a tomato from our small backyard garden, he’s with me.
If you had asked me as I was graduating high school where I was going or what I was going to do with my life in 2003, the answer was simple: anywhere and anything but stay here. Long story short, after college I ended up in New York City, found and married the love of my life and built a career celebrating Black art and culture. Eventually, I began to feel the magnetic pull towards home. The South. I ignored it and kept searching for “that thing” until I couldn’t run from it any more. This must be another type of circadian rhythm; the return.
In December 2019, Curtis and I drove from Brooklyn to Columbia. In our last hour of the 13-hour trip, running the dusk, we passed a field of cotton. I know. Cotton and Black people and the South. So much history and pain. But also—survival. I am here only because enough of my ancestors made their way out of those fields. Something called out to me to pull over and take a branch. We did. So, with a branch of raw cotton in the backseat of my car, I dreamed aloud for the first time: I told Curtis my dreams of owning a farm one day. I had never said it before. My parents were young enough to grow up in integrated school systems, and were taught to believe that success was white assimilation and a rejection of the rural upbringing from which they grew. I inherited that as well, and was pushed out of the South Carolina nest to “make something of myself.” But I was understanding that I was to be the start of the curve—the return to the source. Home. The place that made me. It had been brewing for some time, the way cultivated seeds can lay dormant for years until the right conditions for sprouting and then suddenly—a garden. I had wondered what my grandfather’s life would have been like had he had acres of acres to spread his visions when he was ready?
COVID-19 and the 2020 racial justice reckoning and my being back in my native South highlighted so many things for me. When the uprisings started and all of the statements started pouring forth from one institution to the next, I remember looking around to my contemporaries in Columbia and thinking: it’s moments like this the lack of Black cultural spaces, places to go, places to be together, become louder. Black folks needed more open spaces to gather, to be together. I dream of SALOMA ACRES being one of those places.
For the rest of us, when the literal outdoor spaces closed, I thought about what lives folks who had access to resources and land must have been living? Suddenly the one-third acre of land my house sat on felt impossible. It led me to the interiority of my own understanding and relationship to outside and it is so true what they say: everything you need to know [about yourself] you learned before kindergarten. I had been given the blueprint to my own healing and liberation and I didn’t know it. I had been given, decades ago, the possibility model for ways to live a life—with dirt under my fingernails and animals and community and beauty nearby—that honored all of the generations before me.
And when I got on a horse for the first time as an adult not too long ago, the rest of the puzzle began to unlock. Maybe what I was to be when I grew up was to live in community on the land, to be an equestrian, to nurture an outdoor oasis?
So here we are. If the Second Law of Physics is such that all energy is constant and that nothing is ever lost or found, only is, then SALOMA ACRES is a manifestation of our ancestors, my grandparents, parents prayers and dreams for their progeny: that we find goodness and that I be a conduit to share the favors bestowed upon me with others. I find it no coincidence all of the women in my life were caretakers and educators. That the men I grew up loving taught me self-sufficiency and that the land can give you what you need if you let it. We can build the life we want with whatever space we’re given. And to share it with others who have less.
In our first South Carolina house in the 80’s, Daddy looked up and down Forestwood Drive and saw all the kids who would grow up with me. He built a play shed, two swing sets, a picnic table in the front and back yards, and a pool. What was ours was theirs. What’s mine will be ours. That is the dream of SALOMA ACRES.
I can’t wait to play with you on the green.
DéLana R.A. Dameron