Blue Devils Leave Lasting Legacy
DAA Celebrates Five-Year Partnership with Robertson Scholars
After a week-long closure for a restorative summer-ending vacation, Delta Arts reopened its doors Monday, July 30 and for the first time in eight weeks, there was not the smell of coffee brewing from the back kitchen; there were no mid-morning check-ins scheduled and there were no sounds from the gallery above of backpacks dropping to the floor and readying for a productive day.

For the first time since May 23, the 2018 Summer Residents from the Robertson Scholarship Program out of Duke University and University of North Carolina were not here, but the lasting impact of Kyle Ryan and Allayne Thomas' work still remains.

"We thank Kyle and Allayne (pictured above) for their incredible passion, dedicated hard work and critical support they’ve provided to this organization over the past two months," DAA Executive Director Rori E. Herbison said. "We look forward to the partnership that allows this vital internship to take place every year and are always left blown away and indebted to the talent that comes through our front door."

For the past five summers a Robertson scholar has been placed at Delta Arts Alliance, this year being the first the organization played host to two residents. The emergence of this partnership is an interesting one. DAA has the good fortune of being known
around the area for the work it does to promote arts education and the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program expressed an interest in sending a scholar to assist in this work during their Summer of Service. Set after the completion of the Scholars' first year of college, rising sophomores are sent to four different locations across the southern United States to give back in an internship while living together in a house. Cleveland saw 10 total scholars in the area this summer, with work placements in Cleveland, Mound Bayou, Sunflower and on Delta State University's campus.
Now, as the partnership has evolved over the years, the work DAA does would be incomplete without the life the scholars' breathe into the program each summer. DAA would not be able to offer critical summer arts and dance programming, which combined serves almost 200 students in an average summer, a number that continues to grow thanks to the impact of each scholar year after year.

However, the work scholars do goes deeper than the classes DAA holds each summer in its building. Their work is used yearound to propel DAA forward and place it in a position tackle upcoming, crucial goals. Each scholar has left behind a legacy that is important to the work Delta Arts does today, from orientation packets and film-making to social media & publicity and grant-writing.

Herbison shares, “DAA is grateful for the opportunity we get each year to welcome in a new Robertson Scholar, and as it so often ends up, a new family member into our fold. The relationship is one of the most rewarding aspects of the partnership as a whole. The impact they have not just on the continuation and invigoration of our organization’s work, but also on the joy and engagement of all the students in this building and at site partners is invaluable to DAA. It is felt, I would say, even throughout the wider Cleveland community and they will be missed dearly.”
For an extended look on the history and impact of this partnership, check out the video below, produced and edited by this year's Scholars Kyle Ryan and Allayne Thomas.
2018 Summer Residents Reflect on Time in Delta
Allayne Thomas
Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, DUKE '21
Summer Resident, Delta Arts Alliance

Time moves differently here in the Delta. Somehow eight weeks can spill out in a second, but some days can pass like years. This is a reflection on my time here and right now, I stand convinced my most lasting legacy will be my excessive use of art related puns. But I digress.

Articulating my reflective thoughts and translating them into accessible words is something I need to work on; however, when you work with Rori, there will always be ample opportunity to improve. She is a force that expects much and asks for very little. I came here expecting to grow, and I was not disappointed. Yet, there were still surprises along the way.

While you might not have sensed it yet, the way I find my way into the arts is
through words, though in a different canvas. I speak in poetry, so, in the spirit
of the Delta, I shall try something new:
On things of which I have learned
  1. I am, as Rori has instilled in me more than once a week, a badass. (I may not be fully convinced of this yet, but I am getting there.)
  2. Time moves differently here. Some days it is like watching paint dry and time will drip, slow and accidental; some days you will have just arrived yesterday and be told it’s time to leave already.
  3. I have things to say. These things deserve, no demand, attention and therefore I should push myself into all spaces to share my voice.
  4. The arts aren’t what I expected - and that is the point.
  5. Food can be a language, both a question and an answer.
  6. The Delta is a special place. The Delta is a strong place. It is more than the stereotypes placed on it: of sticky heat, boarded up homes, the constant buzz of mosquitoes. There are also kids whose giggles trickle into my hands like gold and a sunrise that bleeds across the sky like an open wound; a sun reminding us there is warmth in vulnerability,
  7. A powerful leader is one that does not demand it, but simply expects it.
  8. An extended hand can make the coziest of homes.
Above all,
I learned that I will never stop learning
I learned how to breath and let go,
how to speed up when necessary,
Slow down when my body calls for it
I learned what color the word family is.

You see, each word has a color and in each sentence we are painting. If I were to paint myself into the halls of Delta Arts Alliance, I hope it is in yellow cheerfulness, in fresh light green curiosity and a turquoise of hard-work.
Kyle Ryan
Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, DUKE '21
Summer Resident, Delta Arts Alliance

On May 23 rd , I boarded Delta Bus Lines for a short two hour trip down here to Cleveland, where I have spent the past eight weeks. The rows of corn and soy, taking the place of the rolling hills I was used to, fascinated me. I loved to look on and see every row sitting peacefully and seeming effortlessly perfect. I was intrigued.

The welcome to Cleveland came with a smile from Rori that eased the pain of the hundreds of mosquitos that had pierced my skin. On the first day, Rori talked to us for hours outlining the goals of the summer and what tasks we would focus on (when there was nothing else we had to do in the day to day on-goings of Delta Art Alliance). She spoke firmly but had a tone that empowered us with her belief that we could accomplish this work.

I was intimated—no need to sugar coat things. I was worried what people would think, what it meant to come into a town and help out for eight weeks before then just leaving; I wanted to act with respect and purpose but getting there wasn’t easy. Rori and many of the others that worked at Delta Arts Alliance—Katie Grace, Lala, Alex—offered me conversation and interest. They talked to me about the town, their own lives and how things worked in the area. The Delta was much different from any place I had ever lived, but I quickly began to feel at home.

Everyone reading this newsletter knows the work that Delta Arts Alliance does. One of the more significant things I will take away from my time here is the undeniable value of dedication and hard work. As I had the opportunity to interact with both teachers and students of DAA, I saw firsthand the profound impact that arts and the work DAA is doing and having in the Delta. Seeing students light up as they talk about their experiences with art and dance has left me inspired by what people can do when they want to make a difference.

Rori is one of those people. I mention her name again but she has left an indelible mark on me. She is a force to be reckoned with-- fierce, loving, and madly kind. I learned more from sitting in her office working or even shooting the breeze than I thought I could. Lessons anywhere from the proper way to word a grant cover letter to being comfortable calling someone on the phone or even, what different fruit tastes like. I will miss this place.

The Cleveland area has become a home away from home. As I ran around the town on my last day I couldn’t help but feel a hole in my heart as I knew I wouldn’t be seeing these streets nor the stores any time soon. I hope I’ll be able to visit again, but until that time—Thank you! Thank you for the conversations; thank you for the welcoming. Thank you for the love and care. Thank you for everything!