This summer, two students from Hillcrest High School will be heading to the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) National Competition in Detroit. The competition was first organized over 30 years ago by NAACP branches across the U.S. to encourage African American high school students to aspire for excellence in 26 academic areas of competition.
Each year high school students from public, private, and parochial schools across Memphis compete in the categories of Science, Humanities, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Filmmaking/Video and Business. Each category also has subcategories. For example, the Performing Arts category includes Dance, Dramatics and Oratory. This year, seven Hillcrest students collectively competed in written poetry, spoken word, short stories, and drawing.
Alesha Griggs and Aissata Diallo took first place in the written poetry and short stories competitions, respectively. Next, they’ll be heading to Detroit to represent Hillcrest at the national competition. Of the four Hillcrest students who competed in written poetry, three took home first, second and third place. “Entering the ACT-SO competition was an honor,” shared Diallo. “On top of that, I will be going to Nationals this summer and I am very excited about that. I’m eager to see the many talents that people like me, people of color, demonstrate. It’s amazing how ACT-SO gives an opportunity for young African American people to showcase their talents.”
The ACT-SO competition was introduced at Hillcrest by Marian Crooks, a veteran Spanish teacher who’s taught at Hillcrest for the past three years. Crooks had been involved in ACT-SO for many years in various capacities, including as a coach, a chaperone, a mentor, a coordinator, and a department chairperson. Since coming to Hillcrest, she’s coached and guided a team of students in the competition. While Hillcrest students have won first place in the past, this year represents the largest number of wins for the team.
“Competing like this really builds their confidence level,” said Crooks. “It’s good for them to be uncomfortable and then to be successful and broaden their horizons - it helps students grow. I have seen so much growth in them, and when they progress to Nationals and they meet other students from across the nation, I see light in their eyes.” Each year, the national competition is held in a different city, and finalists also have the opportunity to tour the city. Crooks believes in the ACT-SO competition format because it encourages building community more than winning: “I love the relationship between students. In most competitions, there’s a cutting edge, but in ACT-SO, students encourage each other and wish the best for each other.”
At Green Dot, we know how important it is that students have opportunities to build a “can-do” spirit that motivates them to graduate prepared for college, leadership, and life. We also know that when students are exposed to communities beyond their own, they build the confidence necessary to engage peers on their college campuses in the future.