Every year on June 19, Black Americans around the country honor Juneteenth with celebrations. The holiday has evolved throughout the years to commemorate and honor freedom. Now, more than ever, our community boldly and rightly so, celebrates the historic day.
Elijah Rutland, a senior Graphic Design scholar at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, FL., honors the historical and pivotal moment in US history through his artistic expression and deep appreciation of his time as a student at a historically Black University.
Complaints through Artistic Expression
Elijah is the founder and creator of the rapidly emerging Fix My Sole brand (www.fixmysole.com). The brand specializes in the artistic customization of sneakers as well as the conceptualization and execution of unique digital illustrations. Rutland got his start by sketching shoe designs on paper in elementary school because his parents would not buy him the expensive sneakers he wanted.
However, Rutland did not initially pursue art as an undergraduate student. Told that he wouldn’t make it with an art major—that he would be a broke, starving artist, Rutland pursued business his freshman year. Feeling deeply unfulfilled after taking financial accounting, Rutland turned to graphic design and art.
He describes choosing to pursue art against all odds as a reclamation. That reclamation, to Rutland, is much like honoring the legacy of Juneteenth. And that choosing art as work is an inspiration to all to choose any field but especially the creative fields.
“For so long I was told that doing any kind of creative work, you’ll never be able to make it and you wouldn’t have any sort of quality of life.” For Rutland, choosing art and gaining success, and “doing it on his own and showing people that it’s possible is what Juneteenth is all about.”
“It was in the law, we were considered 3/5ths of a person,” and for Rutland Juneteenth is about, “reclaiming the other 2/5ths and becoming whole.” Doing that through art or any medium is about reclaiming yourself, he says.
It was Rutland’s parents who set the foundation for his appreciation of the historical resonance of Juneteenth. “In Macon, we always had a Juneteenth festival, they would bring people to do reenactments. And I would always wonder why I was learning about
it here, at the park.” At school Rutland’s teacher didn’t know anything about it. Through the preservation of that history in Macon, Rutland was able to teach his classmates and friends about Juneteenth, long before it became a federal holiday.
With the foundation set by his parents, Rutland acknowledged that, “even though it’s a federal holiday and more people are aware, it’s important to keep the roots.”
Juneteenth: The HBCU Experience
The roots of historically Black colleges and universities are tied to what Rutland describes as reclamation—as becoming whole. “Being at an HBCU is the best experience I’ve ever had, being at an institution that from its first days was set up for me. Every decision, every faculty member, everything—was made for me, and people like me,” says Rutland.
The best thing about FAMU is the support and love that Rattlers show to one another. No matter who you are or where you are from, if you went to FAMU you are a part of the FAMULY and they look out for you in any way they can, and that isn’t something you can get anywhere else.
“My HBCU experience was the best five years of my life—I really learned who I was,” Rutland says. When choosing to pursue his passion, it was at FAMU that he decided to, “fully invest and take the risk.”
With the groundwork set at FAMU, Rutland has completed two internships at Warner Bros. He was a production manager on projects such as Netflix’s Green Eggs and Ham and a background painter on HBO Max’s upcoming “Aquaman: King of Atlantis” series. Rutland and his work have been featured prominently on GQ.com, solecollector.com, and Airbrush Action magazine, amongst others.
In addition to his sneaker art, Rutland has excelled as a digital illustrator. In 2018, he created the Black Rolf meme that went viral around the globe. As a result, Warner Bros., Inc. featured Rutland and Black Rolf at Comic-Con 2019 in San Diego.
As a FAMU scholar, Rutland continues to excel at his passion and in the spirit of reclamation plans to uphold the legacy of Juneteenth in all he pursues.