“Head of the Class” highlights original reporting and video from student journalists, in collaboration with NBCU Academy. This article was written by FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication broadcast journalism student Abraiya Ruffin.
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University is known for producing shining stars, and this 23-year-old alumnus has proven to be all that and more. Born and raised in Georgia, Elijah Rutland has been making headlines all over social media – locally and nationally.
Rutland recently made his way back to FAMU, the place that gave him the opportunity to share his passion for art. After being chosen by Xfinity and Riddle & Bloom to produce 11 murals for 11 historically Black colleges and universities, Rutland proudly displayed one of those murals at FAMU’s weekly Set Friday on Aug. 26.
Despite his artistic talent, Rutland did not plan to study graphic design. “I actually was in SBI (School of Business and Industry) my whole freshman year,” he recalled. “The classes were hard and are even harder when you’re not interested.” Rutland said he knew FAMU was the school for him through the help and guidance he received there. His advisor sat down with him and pushed him in the direction of his true passion, visual creations. “She handed me a form to change my major, told me what to do, and everyone was supportive,” he said. The next semester, he began his journey as a graphic design student.
Ranata Hughes, internship coordinator for FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communications, saw great potential in him.
“From the moment I met Elijah and saw his work, I knew we had a superstar,” she said. “This young man came into our program with talent, so we knew he was going to be a leader. After seeing Elijah’s great work, I spoke with him about his goals, dreams and where he sees himself in the future. From there, we chatted about where his talents could take him and internship opportunities he should apply for, which he did and was very successful.”
His new program opened a faucet of opportunities that continues to overflow today. From designing a pair of headphones for Beats by Dre, to creating a viral meme, and even starting his very own shoe customization company, Fix My Sole, Rutland has been unstoppable.
Other aspiring artists are watching him from a distance in hopes of fulfilling their own dreams. Sydney Mclennan, a second-year graphic design major at FAMU, says diversity and recognition are important for young Black artists. “I think it is amazing, being a student in J-school like Elijah was, there have been nothing but a bunch of opportunities for all of us,” she said. “There are a lot of successful people that come from our programs. It is so amazing that there are examples of professionals like Elijah, he’s like a miracle.”
Xfinity’s HBCU tour highlights Black excellence and diversity by spotlighting Black artists and allowing them to exhibit their talents on campuses across the U.S. Rutland received an email from the company, which like NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast, about the project and immediately got to work.
The mural stood in the center of FAMU’s Set Friday festivities and caught the attention of many as they walked by. Rutland used a white baseboard and polished over it with big and bold black ink. A strikingly detailed rattlesnake, FAMU’s eternal flame and more Tallahassee college town artifacts flowed over each other.
Rutland said the mural was a visual representation of his time at the university. He said he wanted to capture the five great years he had while attending the university and include a general shoutout to other HCBUs like his. Students gathered around to sign their name on his wall.
“Honestly I’d like to give a big thank you to Xfinity and Riddle & Bloom for choosing me for this project,” said Rutland. He hopes to continue to create artwork that touches, inspires and entertains.
Rutland says anyone who wants to pursue their dreams as an artist should go for it. “The most important thing is to get started, if you think being an artist is something you want to do, no matter what kind of art it is.”
Rutland’s “Leave Your Mark” mural can be found across from FAMU’s grand ballroom for all to see and sign.
Editor’s note: Xfinity and NBCUniversal are owned by Comcast.
This article was originally published on NBCU Academy’s Head of the Class page.