A youth awards ceremony hosted by the local branch of the NAACP brought together dozens of families and community members in celebration of young people who, during a recent competition, showcased their prowess in various academic and artistic disciplines.
Later this summer, the top winners of that competition — Sanaa Liggans, Mandichera Hargrove, Arden Thompson, Malik Brooks, Ja’Kyah Vaughns and Taylor Freeman — will go toe to toe with other Black youth from across the country as part of what’s called the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO).
During the awards ceremony at the Anacostia Arts Center in Southeast, guests watched Liggans’ award-winning short film “Futures Through the Eyes of Black Youth.”
In this black-and-white montage of interviews, a bevy of young people divulged their future plans and expressed a desire to shape how society viewed them.
“I want to do more documentaries that showcase things that we don’t talk about but I also want to dip my feet in fun stuff like horror and thriller films so I can be stronger,” said Liggans, a student at Suitland High School in District Heights, Maryland and soon-to-be cinematography major at Stevenson University in Pikesville, Maryland.
“I’m looking forward to connecting with other creative people,” Liggans said. “It’s important as young Black people to create a foundation to express ideas with each other in a safe space.”
The May 14 awards program culminated the NAACP DC ACT-SO’s year of programming during which young people representing 33 academic and artistic disciplines enhanced skills they would eventually showcase during an annual competition at Catholic University of America in Northeast.
In her remarks, NAACP D.C.’s ACT-SO adviser Ruby Lewis evoked the memory of the late Theresa K. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Charlette Stokes-Manning, both of whom she said poured resources and time into ACT-SO’s D.C. chapter. Later, guests joined ACT-SO alumnus and master of ceremonies Darryl! Moch in calling out their ancestors. ACT-SO youth Donovan Rivera Ware also led guests in the singing of Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Several minutes later, Mandichera joined other ACT-SO youth to the stage to accept her award for a traditional dance routine she developed with the guidance of an aunt who runs an international African dance fitness program.
Mandichera, a student at Nationhouse Independent Afrikan-Centered School in Northeast, followed in the footsteps of her older brother who won an NAACP D.C. ACT-SO top prize two years ago. In July, she will perform her award-winning dance number before an audience of her peers in Atlantic City, New Jersey during a national ACT-SO competition.
“We had Afrobeats, traditional African dance and contemporary dance,” Mandichera said. “It’s a lot of on-the-spot thinking about what might look nice and piecing it together in a puzzle. There’s also erasing and penciling in things and it’s fun.”
In 1974, journalist Vernon Jarrett founded ACT-SO under the Chicago branch of the NAACP. Over the next few years, other NAACP branches created similar programs. More than 20,000 Black people, including Jada Pinkett Smith and Kanye West, have since matriculated through ACT-SO. A resolution advanced by members of NAACP’s D.C. branch more than 40 years ago molded ACT-SO into an academic-centered program. Today, ACT-SO’s goals include recognizing the achievement of Black youth and mobilizing adults to support members of this demographic.
“There’s so much more [to youth] than sports,” said Alicia Henry, ACT-SO chair and program alumna. “I love seeing the evolution of our youth. We’re able to see their confidence and creativity grow. We’re still trying to get the word out and get into communities to create the mindset of excellence. This is a transformational experience.”