OCC student Jerome Ntakirutimana is an artist, whether he has a pencil in his hand or a soccer ball on his foot. As a soccer player he’s used to performing in front of a crowd. Last month the focus was on his art work when he presented a framed drawing to OCC President Casey Crabill at the monthly Board of Trustees meeting. The drawing was of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama and Malcolm X. “I was nervous! It was an honor for me to be up there and present my talent to all of them, especially the President.”
The presentation was a highlight in Ntakirutimana’s journey which began in 2007, the year he moved with his family from the African nation of Tanzania to the north side of Syracuse. He was 10 years old and didn’t know English but knew he had a special skill in the world of art. “I was born with a talent but didn’t have the tools in Africa to use what I had.”
Ntakirutimana attended Syracuse’s Dr. King school beginning in fifth grade. He learned English in his first year but his favorite class was art. “I was in there with my cousin and another friend. I was always doing more art than them.”
A couple of years later Ntakirutimana decided to give athletics a try. “All of my friends were playing soccer and I wanted to be like them. I started playing in the seventh grade.” He practiced every day and by the time he became a student at Nottingham High School he was one of the best players on the team.
As Ntakirutimana excelled at both art and soccer he struggled with his schoolwork and was unable to pass his Regents exams. Heather Niver, Program Coordinator with OCC’s Liberty Partnerships Programs changed the course of his life. The organization provides high school and college students with strong school and community partnerships aimed at helping students with a high risk of dropping out. “Heather told me I had soccer abilities and art skills but if I didn’t graduate from high school I couldn’t do anything with my talent. She kept pushing me and believing in me. I eventually took all of my Regents again and passed them. If it wasn’t for Heather, I wouldn’t be here right now. She is my second mom and my motivation.”
Ntakirutimana graduated from Nottingham in 2016 and came to OCC where he is majoring in Art and is a member of the Men’s Soccer team. In February he became inspired to draw something related to Black History Month. He knew he wanted his drawing to include the faces of three, inspirational black leaders. “I thought of Frederick Douglass. I thought of Nelson Mandela. I thought about Dr. King. I thought about Malcolm X. I knew for sure I wanted President Obama in the middle.”
He started his drawing February 10th and finished ten days later. On the left was Martin Luther King, Jr., in the middle was President Obama and on the right was Malcolm X. “Normally when I do drawings I’m like, ‘Ehhhh!’ Other people will tell me it’s good. With this one I loved it right away.”
After Ntakirutimana presented his drawing at the Board of Trustees meeting it was immediately hung on the wall of the President’s suite on the second floor of the Whitney Applied Technology Center. He grinned from ear-to-ear when he saw where it had been placed.
Ntakirutimana is now focused on becoming an American citizen. His mother, father and three siblings have already been naturalized. He will be the last. In the fall he’ll play soccer for OCC again while continuing work toward his degree. “My goal is to go from here to a big school where I can take my art to the next level and continue to play soccer.”