William Shakespeare once said, “It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. Meaning, who we are truly meant to be or what we are truly meant to do, depends on us. University of Memphis student Jarvis “Jroc” Howard found his destiny through a talent that many have: drawing.
Born in Tunica, Mississippi to a single mother, Howard didn’t know one day he would be showcasing his art to thousands across the city of Memphis and the U.S. He didn’t know one day he would be meeting celebrities such as actress Meagan Good, activist David Banner, and Hip Hop artist Rich Homie Quan, and most recently, Gabrielle Union, while also earning awards from historic organizations such as the NAACP. Creating his own success wasn’t so easy, however.
“I used to have two cousins that used to babysit when I was about 2 or 1-year-old and they were always drawing,” Howard said. “When they were babysitting me, they used to try to let me do those things as a hobby. I tried but the stuff was so hard. Drawing felt like… Do you know how it feels when you first learn how to write? Hands shaking… nervous… I just said forget it and left it alone and went about my childhood.”
Even though Jarvis gave up for a while, he later returned, but with more focus. What caused that focus was an elementary school drawing contest.
“At Tunica Elementary School, we had these poster drawing contests and I was in the class one day and the intercom came on and said there would be a $100 dollar prize for the winner,” Howard said. “I went home… my grandad took me to a local grocery store… to a Piggly Wiggly… and we went to get a poster and some markers.”
With the help of a family member, Jarvis created an outstanding painting. He had high hopes that he would win the prize, which he did. However, it was only in his possession momentarily.
“I took the poster to school the next morning,“ Howard said. “I knew I was going to win. Everybody I showed the poster was going crazy…. Everybody was hyping me up. I felt so good that day. After lunchtime… it was about one o’clock, they started to judge the posters.”
With a great deal of anxiousness, Jarvis sat and waited while they called the names for fourth, third and second place. He suddenly started to feel as if he did not win. That feeling didn’t last long.
“First place they said my name,” Howard said. “They were like, ‘Jarvis Howard.’ I was so happy… I got my check, but that’s when everything went left.”
Since Jarvis was so young with such an amazing talent, the judges felt the poster was too good for any third grader to do. They disqualified him and took back the money. His current teacher attempted to convince judges that it was his work. She had caught Jarvis drawing numerous times during class time. Unfortunately, her comments weren’t taken into consideration. With sadness and grief in his heart, Howard returned home and cried. Despite the hurt, he didn’t allow that to stop him. He continued to draw and did so in every aspect of his life. Creating art became the biggest hobby he had. So big that it started to overlap with him learning in school.
Drawing had taken over Howard. It was such a passion, that he began to prioritize art over school. During his 5th grade year, he failed. His teacher had already warned him that he would, but he didn’t take heed. However, he’s thankful that she did.
As time went on Jarvis became better and better at what he did. He drew cartoon characters, celebrities and any image that came to his mind. When he arrived at the University of Memphis back in 2016, he knew that it was his time to shine, but timidness was holding him back.
“I was shy when I came to the University of Memphis,” Howard said. “The reason for that is because I transferred… I didn’t know anyone… I’m nervous… didn’t know what to do and was wondering like, ‘How am I gonna make my mark. How am I going to fit in at this school.’ I just told myself, ‘I’m really blocking my own blessing’.”
Eventually, he began to come out of his shell. He walked into a popular campus spot and began to show his art to athletes and his fellow classmates. As Howard continued to self-promote and time progressed, he started to gain not only fans but social media followers. Currently, Jarvis has over 76.4K followers. Despite the fame and success, Jarvis’s hometown and past struggles allow him to remain humble.
“Growing up down there [Tunica, MS], it humbled me in a way. I barely had nothing…I didn’t have nothing and that’s what keeps me humble, Jarvis said.“ To go from the situation I came from to doing the things I’m doing is really a blessing right now. It’s weird in a way. I never thought in a million years I would be doing stuff like this, but I think everything I’m doing is destined for me to do. I know the future has something bright for me because I’ll never go back to that.”
Recently, Jarvis announced the release of eight coloring books that he graphically designed himself. The one that he is the most excited about is his “A Black History Coloring Book.”
“It’s time for it,” Howard said. “It’s educational… I think it’ll be a great tool for people… even for old people, but I’m really targeting the younger generation. I think it’ll be cool for them to actually learn about black history and black leaders that actually played a role in society today. I didn’t put the normal black history people inside because I know… I’m pretty sure everyone already know who they are. I wanted to shine on those individuals that people may not highlight often.”
What’s next for Jarvis? He plans to join the Americorps for two years and mentor young men. Once he’s finished, he plans to work on his entrepreneurship by hosting “paint and sip” parties and having his own art studio.