A Reflection on a Rose Gardener’s Death, and Life

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This is a rose. It is one of many that were nurtured by the hand of Carlos Navarro Franco, a gentle, smiling groundskeeper at Santa Monica Community College, who was killed last Friday by a weaponized young man. Mr. Franco also nurtured two other roses, his beautiful daughters Leticia and Marcela; Marcela was also killed, while in the car with her father as they visited Santa Monica College for her to get textbooks for her pending studies at the school.

Roses are famously difficult to cultivate. But Carlos Franco was a master of that art; everyone who walked through the college quad admired his flowers even if they did not know him. He was a man who dedicated his time to creating and nurturing life (even though he had tragically already lost a son to a car crash), treating each day as an optimistic act, one of faith in nature and beauty.

His own life was snuffed out in yet another of the murderous rampages that have become so routine they elicit barely a murmur of protest, reflecting the opposite of optimism: a societal pessimism, even fatalism.

The point of this show, DnA, is to give voice to those who believe that life can be enhanced, problems can be solved, communities can be strengthened, by the application of art, craft and good design.

All of these attributes were embodied in the quiet work of Carlos Franco. His carefully tended roses were just one feature of sumptuous landscaping at Santa Monica College  that has been part of a remodeling of the campus underway for several years.

Much of the new landscaping takes the form of a central concourse, by tBP and Melendrez Design, that has sewn together disparate buildings, provided greenery, shade and fountains, and created a gathering place for students, faculty and KCRW staffers (concourse is shown below, in image courtesy of tBP). This landscaping reinforces the sense of community at this community college, of which Carlos and Marcela Franco were part, and that was violated by last week’s shooting.

Reluctantly, DnA sometimes looks at the application of ingenuity for designs that do not enhance life nor strengthen communities, like the creation of ever more lethal weapons for civilian use. Or it sometimes considers the loss of belief in design and its ability to build pride in community, such as in the neglect of the national infrastructure.

For reasons beyond the understanding of many of us immigrants — from Mexico, like Carlos Franco, and the world over — who grew up admiring America for its can-do, problem-solving, generous spirit, this country seems to be losing a grip on those inspiring attributes. Its acquiescence to the gun violence that is daily destroying the fabric of families and communities is a frightening manifestation of that loss.

I hope the optimistic spirit of Carlos Franco and his daughter can inspire people to nurture life and community — and to not let the pervasiveness of senseless gun violence overwhelm efforts to prevent it.

If you have thoughts on this, please comment here. To support the Carlos Franco Family Memorial Fund, click here.