No words can describe the impact and importance that Kyla Relaford played in my life and in others.
Tragically this past Sunday, Equal Opportunity Program Director Kyla Relaford passed away at the age of 37. The details of her sudden passing are still unknown, but what’s not is the love she had for her family, friends and the entire EOP community.
She wore many hats during her tenure at Plattsburgh State, from being a member on the newly established social justice task force to educate on the importance of diversity, she did everything with pride and a smile. Her warm and affectionate attitude rubbed off on everyone. She was the mom away from home, and for some, the mother they never had.
She’d show up for graduations, probates and if you needed a shoulder to cry on, you can bet Kyla would be there. Growing up black in America is one of the most difficult things to do. Your life is seen as a statistic; if we’re killed, we’re just another statistic.
The world wasn’t built for us to succeed, but to keep us in the same cycle of abuse and poverty. Since day one, she made us feel different and wanted, and she worked her hardest to make sure we got what we needed.
She gave an opportunity to hundreds of children like me who come from broken homes and education systems to receive a higher education. Through that opportunity, we gained a mentor and a mother. Kyla would remember the name and face of every single student who walked into her office.
My fondest memory of Kyla was formed after months of not visiting the EOP office and growing out a full beard. I was not the same baby-faced young man she met in 2014, and I decided to drop by for a visit. No one in the office recognized me expect for Kyla.
“You thought I wouldn’t recognize you with all that hair on your face,” Kyla said with a smile, her arms open for a hug.
“John, I am extremely proud of you. You’ve made it this far and will be graduating soon. I don’t want you to ever think that anything is impossible. What you’re achieving is what I strive for all my students to achieve. It’s more than a job; we’re all one loving family.”
I owe Kyla everything. She was my mom away from home, and she made it easier to live in an environment where some genuinely do not want to see you succeed. She was tough on us when our grades started slipping and took it personally when we failed her.
Kyla loved hard and cared for everyone whether she knew you or not. It’s a shame that with little under a month left to go, Mom won’t be at graduation like we all knew she would have been.
Kyla has done everything and anything possible to give us EOP students the best years of college. Words will never be able to describe the amount of gratitude that I have for Kyla Relaford. Without her, I would not be here writing this article. I wouldn’t have the bright future that I have built for myself.
For that, I thank you, Kyla, and everyone else in EOP thanks you.
Email John Peralta at firstname.lastname@example.org