Young Black Talented Artist

When the Black Lives Matter protests began earlier this year, many took to the streets to show their desire for change. But due to the pandemic, not everyone who wanted to could safely join. One immunocompromised seventeen-year-old picked up his art supplies to show his feelings.

Robert and his mom Marquita Photo: Courtesy of the family

“I was just watching videos and they were testifying their experiences when it comes to Black Lives Matter,” says Robert Boone, a high school senior in Clarksville, Maryland. “When I was watching these videos, I got really inspired. Like, to the point where I drew that picture ‘Why Does Skin Matter’ overnight. I just felt something in that piece. That came out of all my heart and soul to that piece.”

The piece he created is a striking mix of portrait and commentary with words worked into the picture. “Don’t touch my hair” is in her hair, “Why does our skin matter” is across her face, and “We will speak” on her lips. More phrases adorn the rest of her face, neck, and shoulders.

The next morning, he showed his mom, Marquita Harris, what he had created. “When I saw it I said, ‘Oh my god.’ I was so impressed,” she says. “I said, ‘Robert, do you know what you just drew? This is a masterpiece. I see it going so far.’”

His mom was so inspired, she put it up on social media and the piece started getting positive attention. “Then somebody said ‘Oh my God, I love it’,” says Marquita. “I said ‘I love it, too, and I would like to wear it because I like to wear things.’ and I was like ‘Robert we’re going to get this on a t-shirt.’ And I remember Custom Ink from a long time ago when I had my nonprofit…. I called the 1-800 number and I got it on the market [as a custom t-shirt fundraiser]. And we’ve been selling since he created it in June.”

Robert Boone Photo: Courtesy of the family

“It was amazing because I could reach the social media, and send the link, and [Custom Ink] would ship everywhere and I didn’t have to worry about it. It’s just the easiest forum to get it out there and it has been wonderful for Robert. It’s just a blessing.”

Marquita titled their fundraising campaign “Young Black Talented Artist” and included a photo of Robert along with the line “Robert believes in the power of Art.” She decided to do a fundraiser because Robert needed a new laptop and an animation tablet along with other art supplies to prepare for his senior year. Robert is immunocompromised and isn’t able to work outside of the home, so a t-shirt fundraiser was the perfect way for him to earn money—and it meant that he could do it through his art.

Robert was diagnosed with Septo-optic Dysplasia and Panhypopituitarism when he was younger. He says, “I’m missing my pituitary gland and I’m missing my optic nerve.” This means that he’s unable to see out of one eye and that his body is very vulnerable to infection. “Robert cannot encounter a fever… any type of fever at all… or else his body will shut down,” says Marquita.

The fundraiser has provided a wonderful opportunity for the family to connect with others and to give them an opportunity to support Robert’s art. Robert is most grateful for his mother’s support, though. “She wanted to get that out there, and I’m very grateful. And she wanted to do shirts. She wanted to do a whole bunch of things. I really have to thank her for the t-shirt idea because we sold a lot of t-shirts.” Robert was able to buy both the laptop and tablet he needed for school with the proceeds from his t-shirt fundraiser.

After the success of the first piece, he launched a second design, this time depicting a man wearing a mask with phrases written across him like “Color is not a crime,” “I speak through the mask,” and “We are Black men.” He was inspired by famous Black male YouTubers like Cory Kenshin also known as CoryXKenshin. He watches Cory’s videos and thinks about having his own animation series on YouTube someday. “I want to make my own web series. I have scripts for that. I have characters. Concept art. I really want to make an animation series. I have the plot. Storyline. Everything.”

Robert is only getting started, but he’s made great strides finding and using his voice for someone so young. “When I try to do art, I think of what should be said? When I think of art I think of a way of protesting and speaking your mind.”

His original custom t-shirt fundraisers have since closed, but he’s relaunched Don’t Touch My Hair. The proceeds will go toward more art and animation supplies for Robert and runs through September 25th. You can see and support his campaign on his fundraising page.

Miellyn is the Director of Marketing Content at Custom Ink. Her work has spanned marketing for television networks like TLC and Travel, educational content for Smithsonian and National Geographic, marketing and story for indie video games, essays for publishers including Random House, The Telegraph, and Smart Pop Books, and stories for press outlets like VICE and VH1.