By Evelyn Grooms and Janice Hayes
Ninety years ago, Ross Grooms embarked on an amazing journey called life. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” Lao Tzu said. Ross’ first step began in Wellborn, a small, rural town on the outskirts of Live Oak, in Suwannee County, Florida. His parents named him after the doctor who delivered him, Dr. Ross Barnett. He grew up in a close-knit family with his nine siblings and industrious parents.
Ross Grooms has an extraordinary memory and pensive perspective on historical events and community milestones. After all, he has lived through three major wars, 15 US Presidents, school segregation and forced integration, the civil rights movement, race riots, the Black Lives Matter movement, the revitalization and gentrification of Fort Lauderdale’s predominately Black communities, and many other momentous moments in history.
Let us take a journey through the annals of history through the lens of Mr. Ross Grooms.
His early education began in a one-room building named after the Grooms family. The Grooms school had a principal and one teacher to teach basic education subjects, first through eighth grades. Like many Black families in rural areas, the Grooms children also helped with farm work. After completing studies at the Grooms School, he had to take a bus to Columbia County to attend Springville Junior High School. Although Springville Junior High School (formally Springville Rosenwald School) was the nearest school, he had to walk two miles just to get to the bus stop. The Springville school was among several schools built throughout the South to improve the quality of education for African American children supported by gifts initially donated to Tuskegee Institute by Julius Rosenwald and later funded through the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. In addition to the basic middle school curricula, Springville offered a broad range of innovative programs for its students, including competitive sports, music appreciation and home economics.
Completing junior high school presented yet another challenge. To attain a high school diploma, Ross had to transfer to Richardson High School in the city. He would have to take three different buses to get there. Again, he had to walk two miles to the first bus connection, then race to make the next two bus connections on time. Yet he was determined to succeed, rising in the wee hours of the morning, juggling school and work. He often had to skip days at school to help maintain the farm. Rising early in the morning to get to the bus stop, being attentive in school and working on the farm in the afternoons instilled an unparalleled work ethic that remained with him throughout his adult life.
Although he could not participate in extra curricula sports activities, he enjoyed being on the debate team. He graduated from Richardson High School in1952 and immediately enlisted in the United States Army. He was honorably discharged in 1954.
Ross decided that farm work was not for him. So, he travelled to Broward County to begin a new journey in his life. He adapted his transferable skills of hard work and farming to start his own landscaping business. He built a robust lawn service that helped sustained his family for several years. Ross’ work ethics and early business success fueled an innate entrepreneurial spirit. Driven and determined, he seized the opportunity to develop several businesses: lawncare/landscaping, restaurant, construction, and a cleaning service. He also partnered with his brother to form C and R Concrete, one of the largest Chattahoochee businesses in Broward County, employing several individuals from the community.
In addition, he started a janitorial service, cleaning offices at a bank. It was at one of those offices where he met the bank president and developed a lasting friendship. This friendship led to being introduced to the developer of a national childcare franchise with facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Since his wife Evelyn was a certified childcare worker, it was a natural fit to apply for one of the facilities. Ross and his wife, Evelyn, were awarded one of the facilities with a loan guarantee from the Small Business Administration (SBA). They were the first African Americans in South Florida to receive such a loan guarantee from the SBA. Little Shavers Child Care had very humble beginnings but soon developed into Little Shavers Child Care and Montessori and was at full capacity. However, the only Black-owned Montessori facility in Broward County was closed after only eight years, as it was taken through eminent domain to expand the Dillard High School campus. Although Ross and Evelyn Grooms were disappointed with the closing of Little Shavers Child Care and Montessori school, they valued and appreciated progress. They have lived across the street from Dillard Elementary school for over 61 years and are indelibly a part of Dillard’s history and progress.
Ross was a humble gentleman but savvy businessman. He continued to diversify his business portfolio and maintained his construction business to sustain his family. Later, he partnered with his brother-in-law to operate the historic Bud’s Shoe Shop under the new name: P&G Shoe Repair from which he retired.
Even with the overwhelming demands of operating a business, Ross was able to find time to live life with full measure. Nevertheless, he spent quality time with his family. He found time to travel and attend sports events, especially his beloved Miami Dolphins games. He also found time to volunteer, serving on the Board of Trustees for several years and chairing the Facilities Committee at New Mount Olive Baptist Church, where he has been a member for approximately 67 years. He is a member of the American Legion and the Dillard Park Homeowners’ Association.
By all accounts, Ross Groom is an accomplished entrepreneur. He attributes his success to faith, family, and friends. Yet, he is acutely aware that his life work was shaped by his life experiences. He vividly recalls how hopeful he felt about the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. He thoughtfully reflects on the similarities of the Civil Rights protest and the Black Lives Matter protest. He remembers the collateral damages of the Vietnam War where many young Black men returned home addicted to drugs, suffering with mental illness or in body bags. He reminisced about the days when Black businesses thrived along the corridors of Six street and Fifth avenue in Fort Lauderdale. He has witnessed astonishing changes across the community, the nation, and the world, but his hope in humanity and faith in God inspires him to continue the journey with vigor and vitality.
Since retirement, he spends time growing a few vegetables in his backyard and bicycling through the neighborhood. He has a passion for old western and Godfather movies. He also enjoys listening to old gospel sermons and gospel songs. His journey has given him a plethora of memories to cherish and share. Just a little talk with Ross will give the listener a big window into the journey of a lifetime. He is often asked to share his secret to a long life. He states very matter-of-factly, “Perhaps genes, as longevity, is common in my paternal and maternal family. My maternal grandfather lived to be 105, one of my maternal aunts lived to be 103, one of my siblings lived to celebrate his 92nd birthday, and two of my surviving siblings will be celebrating their 97th and 99th birthdays his year.” Yet, there is no secret that Ross’ positive attitude and hard work are the main ingredients for a long, happy and prosperous life journey.
Ross and his wife Evelyn have been married for 66 years. They have two children, Rosalyn Lewis and Tyron Grooms; five grandchildren, Ryan Fernandez and his wife, Yajaira; Mikenzie Lewis, Candace Grooms, Corrin Grooms and Cameron Goodridge; and one great granddaughter, Amariyah Fernandez. His siblings include Elizabeth Grooms Scott, Charles Groom, and his wife Carlotta Leslie Groom; Mary Grooms, Cornelius Grooms and his Wife, Leola Allen Grooms; and Recy Grooms Franklin. Ross feels blessed to be alive to see his children and grandchildren become adults; and feels especially blessed and grateful to be able to enjoy his adorable great granddaughter.
One of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., most profound interrogatives, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” Mr. Ross Grooms has answered that question time and time again throughout his 90-year journey by doing for others along the way. Let us not only admire but aspire to emulate his journey.
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