Local Black Students Compete for Gold at the NAACP’s Version of the Academic Olympics

by Susan Fried

Despite a band of dedicated volunteers attempting to get the word out, not too many people know about the NAACP’s ACT-SO program.  The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, first began in Seattle in 1979 a year after it was first started at the Chicago NAACP branch by renowned journalist Vernon Jarrett.

Jarrett believed success in academics and the arts should be awarded in the same manner as athletic accomplishment.  

Currently, there are over 30 disciplines in science, math, the humanities, visual arts and business that high school students can compete in, with the gold medalist receiving the opportunity to travel to the NAACP National Convention and compete against 800-900 students from more than 200 NAACP branches across the country.

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C.J. Tonnes (on stage) describes his photographs as judges look on while his fellow ACT-SO participants hold them [Photo: Susan Fried]
On April 29th the 10 students who competed during the local finals held at the MLK F.A.M.E Community Center on April 8th will find out who among them will represent the Seattle/King County NAACP at the National Convention in Baltimore Maryland later this year.  

Along with the gold medalists, a few silver and bronze winners will also be selected as “observers” by the judges to travel to the convention.  Observers get an opportunity to see what skills are required to compete at the national level.  

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Manjit Golden and her fellow photography judges talk about student submitted pictures competing in the 2017 ACT-SO final. [Photo: Susan Fried]
Although Seattle’s program is relatively small it does well nationally, having won 4 medals in the last 3 years against larger NAACP branches from Los Angeles and New York who can each bring more than 100 students to the Nationals.

Mahala Provost explains her entry in the Medicine and Health Category to the judges at the final ACT-SO competition on April 8th [Photo: Susan Fried]
Explaining how hard recruiting young people to ACT-SO can be, long time volunteer, Carolyn Riley Payne said “It is very difficult to get students to participate because we compete outside the school systems with sports and other school activities.  We need more teachers and parents to encourage students.  Schools have to help the students see the value of being apart of the program and not as an extension of classroom work.”

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Volunteer Judges for ACT-SO final [Photo: Susan Fried]
 The Seattle ACT-SO volunteers try to contact all the local public and private high schools in the area to make them aware of the program.

Manjit Golden, a photography judge at this year’s final described her experiences; “I loved doing ACT-SO as a kid! It was an amazing opportunity for me to travel all over the country and network with other students of color who were academics and scholars such as myself. I made a ton of amazing friends from all over the country and the world and had so many doors opened to me, such as an opportunity to study at one of the best art schools in the country and compete in other national competitions. I came back as a judge two years ago pretty much because Ms. Payne asked me to do so and we all know that when Ms. Payne asks you to do something, you do it!

But in all seriousness, I really did feel like I needed to pay my dues. I was given all expenses paid trips all over the country for three years where we were staying in 4 and 5 star hotels and I truly felt like sacrificing a couple Saturdays a year was the absolute least I can do. I love seeing young African-American students who aren’t afraid to show off their knowledge and their talents and I am willing and wanting to  support the growth of our community in any way possible.”

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After competing in Music-Classical Vocal, Jorydan Beleford watches his fellow ACT-SO participants perform at the finals on April 8th. [Photo: Susan Fried]
The public is invited April 29th to learn the fate of the students who competed in the finals and watch them showcase their talents.  The ACT-SO Talent Showcase and Award Ceremony, will run from 3-5pm, at the MLK F.A.M.E Community Center.

Organizers are hoping attendees will help make it possible for these talented young people to represent Seattle’s ACT-SO program at the NAACP National Convention in Baltimore.   Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door.

Featured Photo Susan Fried

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