Three Howard County youngsters are preparing for stiff competition when they confront more than 1,000 blacks in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ACT-SO "Olympics of the Mind" competition.
ACT-SO, which stands for Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, has been conducted by the NAACP since 1978.
The program is designed to create opportunities for talented black youngsters to demonstrate that black is not only "beautiful," it is also "brilliant." The competition is held at the beginning of the NAACP national convention, which will take place this year in Indianapolis, starting tomorrow.
The three students who won the Howard County competition in May are: Jason Knight, 18, of Ellicott City, a 1993 graduate of Centennial High School; LaNell Coffey, 17, of Ellicott City, a senior next year at Mount Hebron High School; Nicole Williams, 17, of Columbia, a senior next year at Wilde Lake High School.
The Howard County NAACP ACT-SO committee raised the money for the students' Indianapolis trip. Annie Foster, of Jessup, chairs the local committee and will accompany the students to Indianapolis.
The students will compete in five of the 24 ACT-SO categories, which include the sciences, the humanities and the performing and visual arts.
All three students are seasoned competitors.
Jason Knight, the son of Harper and Jill Knight, is the only one of the 35 competitors from Maryland who will be competing in three categories: dramatics, vocal music/classical and vocal music/contemporary.
Mr. Knight competed last year in the ACT-SO nationals and earned a bronze medal in the vocal music/contemporary category. He has been a member of the Maryland all-state choir for three years and works with voice teacher, Linda Dykstra of Columbia.
Mr. Knight, who ran for the track team and participated in drama and music groups at Centennial, will be attending the University of Delaware this fall on a full scholarship.
LaNell Coffey, the daughter of William Henry and Grace Coffey, will compete in the oratory category.
Ms. Coffey has been competing since she was a little girl, according to her mother. Last year, she won the gold medal in both of the local ACT-SO instrumental music categories -- classical and contemporary. However, she didn't compete in the national event because she had been accepted into a six-week math program at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
This year, she won the oratory competition with her version of Sterling Brown's "Strong Men." Ms. Coffey has won the oratory contest twice in Baltimore's Showcase of Stars at Bethel AME Church. Last month, she won Hal Jackson's 23rd annual Miss Talented Teens Maryland Pageant which qualified her to participate on July 17 in an international contest to be held in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Nicole Williams, the daughter of Willie and Ruth Ann Williams, will compete in the painting category.
Ms. Williams has been winning awards for her artistry since elementary school. In seventh grade she won first prize in Howard County for a computer-generated video she co-produced. She has been studying art with Dorothy Reddings at the Reddings Academy of Fine Arts in Columbia for three years and has had her work exhibited in the academy's shows.
All three know that winning will not be easy.
When she was an eighth-grader, Ms. Coffey accompanied her mother to the national ACT-SO competition, and the talent just "blew" her mind, she said. She says if she doesn't win this year, she still has another year to compete.
Besides, for Ms. Coffey, an honor student at Mount Hebron, "winning isn't everything. Just being around" 1,000 talented blacks her age is rewarding.
This will be Ms. Williams' first try at an ACT-SO competition. While she hopes that her multicolored, pastel "African Queen" drawing will win a prize, she is aware that she faces stiff competition.
Ms. Williams says she is "happy at the privilege to go" even if she doesn't win.
Mr. Knight, when asked about his chances of winning again this year, said "you never know." The program keeps "getting bigger and better each year," he said, but "I will do my best."
The first-place winners will receive a gold medal and a $1,000 prize. Second-place winners will receive a silver medal and $750 while third place winners will get a bronze medal and $500.