“She made us feel like superheroes,” said EOP student Janaiba Darboe.
Plattsburgh State students and faculty sent their final goodbyes via white balloons to the director of PSUC’s Educational Opportunity Program, Kyla Relaford, 37, who died suddenly Sunday, leaving behind a husband and son.
Hundreds of EOP students, alumni and friends gathered in the Angell College Center’s Warren Ballrooms to mourn the loss of their mentor and colleague.
Relaford, along with her EOP staff, worked to provide underprivileged students with an opportunity to attend PSUC and thrive upon arrival.
Battery-operated candles waited atop rows of chairs as the space filled to standing room only, and the faux flames illuminated across the room.
A handful of those whose lives were touched by Relaford took turns sharing personal experiences with her and expressing their grief.
Aniya Carvalho spoke on behalf of Black Onyx: The Black Student Union and promised to continue Relaford’s legacy of dedication and raising awareness.
“Sleep in peace to a beautiful, powerful, strong and salient figure on this campus,” Carvalho said. “We will always love you, Kyla.”
President of Fuerza: The Black and Latino Student Union, Emmanuel Rodriguez, struggled to find the words to express his heartbreak. He vowed to make the dean’s list, saying he believed that’s what Relaford would have wanted for him.
Boxes of tissues floated among the crowd while some dabbed away tears, and others stifled sobs.
Several members of Relaford’s family sat front row, and Director of Special Programs and Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Michele Carpentier asked every EOP student or alum to stand. An uncountable number of bodies rose to their feet.
“This is now your family,” Carpentier said.
Carpentier announced that Relaford would have been presented the Student Affairs 2018 Vision Award next week as a surprise.
Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman instead presented the award to her relatives.
Relaford’s sister, Tiana Relaford, fought back tears while she recalled the pair growing up.
“She and I grew up in the 80s, and one thing we always enjoyed was the ‘Rocky’ movies,” Tiana Relaford said. “Take your opportunity to learn and be the best you can be because the education you’re receiving is priceless, and she would want your strongest spirit to go out into the world and be Rockies.”
In a quiet ring formed outside the ACC, mourners counted backward from three before releasing into the air a mass of white balloons, scrawled with final messages, tied with gold string.
Written in orange marker, “Momma Kyla, Forever in our Hearts,” floated up, up and away.
Email Rebecca Natale at firstname.lastname@example.org