Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics
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The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), informally named the “Olympics of the Mind,” is a youth program of the NAACP that is “designed to recruit, stimulate, improve and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African American high school students.” The year-long program recognizes and awards young people who have demonstrated academic and cultural achievement. Gold, silver, and bronze medals, along with cash awards, are awarded to winners in each of 29 categories of competition in the sciences, humanities, business, performing and visual arts, and local and national entrepreneurship/ culinary competitions.  Active in nearly 400 cities, ACT-SO is the largest academic promotion for black youths in America.
ACT-SO was founded in 1978 by author and journalist Vernon Jarrett (1918-2004). The program was intended to give recognition to young people who could demonstrate academic, scientific, and artistic achievement, allowing young people to gain recognition equal to that often achieved by entertainers and athletes. The first national ACT-SO competition was held in 1978 in Portland, Oregon.
Since its inception, almost 300,000 young people have participated in the program, and more than 700 gold medals have been awarded to youths around the United States. Over $350,000 has been granted in monetary awards, scholarships, and laptop computers.
1976: Vernon Jarrett presented his concept for ACT-SO, an “Olympics of the Mind”, to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. It was later decided that the program would be better served with a national audience rather than installed strictly in the Chicago area.
1977: Jarrett approached NAACP Executive Director, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, who was responsive to the idea of ACT-SO and approached the NAACP National Board of Directors. The NAACP Board of Directors adopted a resolution to accept ACT-SO as an officially sponsored NAACP youth achievement program. Local NAACP branches would be called upon to sponsor ACT-SO, conduct annual local competitions, and then take local gold medalists to an annual national ACT-SO competition.
1978: The first National ACT-SO competition was held in Portland, Oregon with seven cities participating: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and St. Louis.
1980: Barbara Coggins, one of Vernon Jarrett's colleagues, was hired as the first National ACT-SO Director and designed a structural framework for the execution of ACT-SO programs across the country.
1991: The NAACP Board of Directors created the ACT-SO Board committee.
2004: Jarrett died of cancer at the age of 82.
PRESENT: ACT-SO sustains approximately 200 programs nationally. Over the past thirty years, over 200,000 have participated in the program at local and national levels.
2015 and Beyond: NAACP ACT-SO continues to promote growth, excellence and innovation to position ACT-SO competitors as “Leaders For Tomorrow and Beyond."
For over thirty years the mission of ACT-SO has been to prepare, recognize and reward youth of African descent who exemplify scholastic and artistic excellence.
Original goals (1977):
- To encourage and recognize academic achievement of African American students.
- To promote excellence and highlight academic achievement as well as support the accomplishments of these students.
- To encourage communities to become involved in working as partners in the quest for scholastic achievement by serving as mentors, fundraisers, sponsors, and organizers.
According to the NAACP, the program’s goals are:
- To mobilize the adult community for the promotion of classroom and after-school excellence
- To recognize academic achievement among youth on par with the recognition awarded athletics
- To provide and assist students with the necessary skills and tools to establish goals and acquire the confidence and training to make a successful contribution to society
Annual academic competitions are conducted for students of African descent who are U.S. citizens enrolled in grades 9–12 and are amateurs in the categories of competition. Winners of the competition at each local branch are eligible for awards at the finals during the NAACP national convention, which occurs every July. The 2015 national competition was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Students can select up to 3 categories to compete in from a total of 29 offerings:
- STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math):
- Computer Science
- Earth and Space Sciences
- Medicine and Health
- Music Composition
- Original Essay
- Poetry (Written)
- Short Story
- THE PERFORMING ARTS:
- Music Instrumental (Classical)
- Music Instrumental (Contemporary)
- Music Vocal (Classical)
- Music Vocal (Contemporary)
- Poetry (Performance)
- THE VISUAL ARTS:
- Culinary Arts
Gold, silver, and bronze medals, along with cash awards, are awarded to winners in each of 29 categories of competition. Competition winners receive medals and prizes provided by local and regional sponsors and contributors. Local Gold Medalists advance to the National Competition and compete against more than 800-900 gold medalists representing approximately 200 NAACP Branches nationwide and have the opportunity to receive scholarships and other rewards provided by national sponsors.
- Gold medalists: $2,000
- Silver medalists: $1,500
- Bronze medalists: $1,000
ACT-SO is sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. ACT-SO receives support from schools, community organizations, churches, foundations, local businesses, major corporations and individuals.
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- "NAACP Proudly Announces 30th Anniversary ACT-SO Medalists". National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Archived from the original on 4 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
- "ACT-SO: Olympics of the Mind". NAACP, Los Angeles Branch. Retrieved 2009-01-31.