FAMU student, Elijah Rutland’s BEATS design was worn by the NBA All-Star team at the March 7 game in Atlanta
March 7th marked the NBA all-star game in Atlanta, where dream teams were picked to play against one another. This particular game was different from games past. The NBA All-Star game focused heavily on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and HBCU culture.
The league has partnered with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), United Negro College Fund (UNCF), and other organizations to “will highlight the importance of HBCUs and raise awareness around the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color,” according to the NBA website.
It was an opportunity to recognize the talent and achievements that reside at HBCUs while also donating money toward scholarship funds.
NBA Spotlights HBCUs
The HBCU entertainment featured FAMU’s Marching 100, Grambling State University Tiger Marching Band, Clark Atlanta Philharmonic Society Choir, and divine nine step teams from Spelman and Morehouse College.
On March 2 during the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns’ game, Lebron James came on the court rocking a special version of his LeBron PE 18’s. The neon green and orange paid tribute to FAMU.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) March 3, 2021
Nike later announced a six-year clothing deal with FAMU on March 4, creating a rush of excitement and pride for current students and alumni. The NBA all-star teams also sported a special edition Black History Month-themed pair of BEATS headphones. The designer was a senior graphic design student from none other than Florida A&M University.
All About Elijah
Last fall, Elijah Rutland, 21, was one of seven HBCU students selected to have their work highlighted in the inaugural HBCU program facilitated by Beats. His Black History edition beats were worn by the NBA All-Star team at the March 7 game in Atlanta.
No stranger to recognition, the illustrator has been recognized countless times for his work.
Although the Macon, Ga. native has gotten kudos for his work before in the past, the NBA All-Star experience was the first time he received recognition on a national level.
“That was definitely one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Rutland recalls about the experience. “You know these are people I’ve watched growing up like Lebron James, Steph Curry, James Harden and then to watch the newer generation coming up. “
While attending the All-Star game, Rutland had the opportunity to speak with rising star Zion Williamson from the New Orleans Pelicans and Jayson Tatum from the Boston Celtics.
“When I interviewed with Zion Williamson, that was a good experience also because he and the rest of the team appreciated the design. You know people like that get gifts all the time, so I wondered if they were going to appreciate it.”
Black History but make it non-performative
As for the design of the beats, Rutland told RoyalTee he wanted to display authenticity.
“I just wanted it to be a celebration of the nuanced elements about being Black,” he says.
The headphone’s design includes a brown mocha base color with simple yet thoughtful illustrations straight out of a sketchbook.
Rutland added he tried to make a Black history design without making a “Black history” design.
“I didn’t sacrifice the message for a design,” he says. “I wanted something on the surface that looked good but as you look deeper, there is a message and a meaning behind it.”
Through a balanced mix of light activism and black nuance comes the standing point of Rutland’s work. It was a gesture that Rutland said was appreciated by NBA players such as Williamson and Tatum.
“Knowing that the people up there appreciate it like the people I talk to do, really made me feel good about the message.”
Rutland was also responsible for the Black Rolfe meme on social media.
When he is not designing for school, Rutland is growing his brand and expanding his resume. As an entrepreneur, he is the founder of Fix My Sole, a designing business in which he customizes shoes, sells FAMU apparel and Black Rolfe pins.
In June 2019, he landed an internship with Warner Brothers in Burbank, California. After graduation, a full-time job is awaiting him at Warner Brother’s Animation Studios as a background painter.
Rutland says he will be focusing on building his personal work and independent projects with hopes of attaining self-employment in the near future.
Elijah is a featured Royal Man in our Spring edition. Click here to pre-order your copy.
Kylii Clay is a junior Broadcast Journalism student attending Florida A&M University. She is a freelance and staff writer for the Famuan Newspaper .