According to Hawes-Saunders, in a press release, “organizational change and reform, fiscal discipline, and strategic planning and networking became the requirements of the situation then, and these strategies continued to be useful and helpful in enabling the company to navigate the more recent challenge represented by the COVID pandemic and its aftermath.”
She particularly credits the creativity and resilience of the DCDC family, including donors, staff, dancers and Board of Directors, for the company’s recovery and renewal.
“I have admired Ro Nita’s leadership and unwavering commitment to continuing the DCDC legacy of artistic excellence and education,” said DCDC Board Chair Jacqueline Gamblin, CEO of JYG Innovations. “We appreciate her contributions and are extremely grateful for her cultivation of several key partnerships, sponsors and individual donors which are the lifeline of a non-profit. Her service has left a lasting impact and solid foundation for DCDC’s continued stability, success and growth.”
Hawes-Saunders believes DCDC is a “community trust and cultural treasure, whose reason for being is to recreate and celebrate the African American heritage and experience.” Through its artistic and educational initiatives, the company reaches annually approximately 40,000 people, 25,000 of whom are youth. She is particularly proud of DCDC’s “Young, Gifted and Black: A Transformative Experience,” which brought performances of new work and residency activities by choreographers of color to students and the community of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
She has stated that she shares “Jeraldyne Blunden’s commitment to education, social change and cultural transformation.” She initiated new strategic educational partnerships with area universities including University of Dayton, Central State University and Wright State University. These partnerships resulted in initiatives that have benefited area high school and college students and the program growth of the dance company.
During Hawes-Saunders’ tenure, DCDC has received a number of distinguished awards, including the contemporary dance world’s highest honor (New York Dance and Performance Award a.k.a. “The Bessie”) in 2016. DCDC also received the 2016 Workplace Diversity Award from the Dayton branch of the National Conference for Community and Justice. In May 2018, DCDC received the prestigious Ohio Arts Council top artistic award, the Irma Lazarus Award. DCDC has also toured internationally (Chile, China, France, Poland) and, in 2018, the U.S. State Department invited DCDC to tour Kazakhstan and Russia.
In addition to being honored by Dayton Business Journal, particularly receiving the inaugural DBJ Jane Haley Award, Hawes-Saunders was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Dayton in May 2019 for her many contributions to the vitality and quality of the community, her continuing commitment to education, and her advocacy for female and minority business ownership.
DCDC says her belief in the vision and mission of the company – her respect for the company’s history and the founder’s legacy, her advocacy for individual change and organizational transformation, her faith and confidence in the potential and destiny of the company and the talented and dancers – will remain hallmarks of the organization.
“Ro Nita has been an outstanding leader for DCDC in absolutely every dimension of her responsibilities,” said Paul Benson, Vice Chair of DCDC’s Board and University of Dayton provost. “Her agile leadership and ambitious strategic vision for DCDC were powerful catalysts for developing the close working partnership that UD has had with DCDC for the past 12 years.”
Benson noted the Board of Directors will establish a search committee and launch a search soon for Hawes-Saunders’ successor.
“DCDC’s continued artistic excellence, rich grounding in African-American culture and artistic expression, and dramatically expanded national and regional support should make this a highly desirable leadership role,” said Benson.