By Veronica Norris
The late J. Whyatt Mondesire, founder and publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday SUN and former president of the NAACP Philadelphia Branch, would be so proud of the students who won medals and participated in this year’s ACT-SO competition.
There was something about the program that he loved. It shows the world why our students of ACT-SO continue to strive to become the catalyst that propels its students into top careers in 32 different disciplines.
For the first time in the NAACP ACT-SO history, a virtual competition was held both in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 5 and 6, 2020. “ACT-SO” is an acronym for “Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological & Scientific Olympics.”
The competitive categories include the humanities, performing arts, visual arts, and the sciences (STEM). ACT-SO is designed for African American high school students in grades 9 through 12.
This competition was more than a competition this year! Of course, without judges, the students could not compete and without students, there would be no need for judges, who were absolutely on board to make it happen by any means necessary.
The ACT-SO Committee reached out to professionals in the respective fields, who took on the task with their excellent expertise and compassion, as well as earning the respect of their colleagues during a time when it was needed.
We welcomed back Joyce Drayton, founder and executive director of Georgia E. Gregory Interdenominational School of Music, who judges in the performing arts and music categories; returning judge Elicia Katrina Davis, judging in same categories and Richard Washington, founder of BET (Bringing Everybody Together), a first time judge in the performing arts and music categories and Cynthia Swinton-Jackson, a first time judge in the same categories.
Our judges for many years, Harold McIlwain and Cleous Young judged in the categories of performing arts, oratory and poetry performance. We also welcomed back Dyymond Whipper-Young, a graduate from Temple University majoring in advertising with an art direction and a minor in business.
Our longtime judges in the visual arts categories were Dr. Germaine Edwards, public relations administrator of Black Women In Sport Foundation and Lydia P. Browne, teacher/project manager, managing visual, performing, and literary arts programming.
We were extremely fortunate this year to have Bill Jolly, the three-time Emmy award-winning producer and arranger helping with the competition. Jolly worked with Grover Washington, Quincy Jones, on set of “The Butler,” in recording sessions with director Lee Daniels, Stevie Wonder, TAKE 6, Brian McKnight, just to name some of the music industry giants. He is is currently president of his company, Be Jolly Music, Inc.
Lastly, as we are so thankful of all of the judges mentioned, we have a tremendous respect for Cynthia Harmon-Williams — a retiree from Temple University Graduate School — and JoAnn Lander, a retired reading specialist and special education teacher — sisters who continue to have our back, even when it is up against a wall, and Cynthia Minus-Selby, another one of our multi-talented judges. They have all previously acted as judges in the humanities categories and welcomed newcomer, Dr. Deidre Anderson.
A special shout out to our committee team members Sean Parker, chairperson, as well as Doug Naphas and Yvette Parker for assisting in steering the Zoom sessions during the local virtual competition. A shout out as well to my fellow committee members Brenda Myers, Eileen Mays-Voss, Emery Lawrence, Valerie Lawrence, Jean Kamara, and Dr. Joi C. Spraggins.
Even with several students dropping out of the competition for one reason or another through the COVID-19 crisis, other students kept steadfast to their craft during the two-day competition. We are so profoundly grateful for everyone’s valuable time! I will tag this year’s competition a successful one as we continue to navigate through this difficult time.
The National NAACP ACT-SO competition will be held virtually this year from July 22 – July 25: stay tuned!