yesenia_ozuna_web.jpgMiami-Dade — The best and the brightest of Miami-Dade’s black high school students gathered for Module I of the 34th annual Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) last week in Overtown. In the competition dubbed the “Olympics of the Mind,” students competed in the visual arts, performing arts and music composition.


Students who win the competition are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals in each category of competition, Arthemon Johnson, president of ACT-SO Miami-Dade said. “The gold winners will advance to the nationals, but we all honor all of them,” he said.

Once the winners are identified, Johnson said, “we begin a mentoring process within the ACT-SO community or at the university level. We do this to ensure that the student’s project is strong enough to do well at the nationals.”

Mentors are volunteers, Johnson continued. “Who we select depends on the category. We have relationships with experts at universities including (Florida Memorial) and (the University of Miami). The kids and their projects have to be ready and we make sure that they are.”

The national finals, where students will gather and compete for monetary awards, will take place July 5-9 in Houston.

Last year, 23 Miami-Dade ACT-SO medalists qualified to participate at the 2011 national competition where three 11th graders won national medals. About 96 Miami-Dade students over the past 33 years have won the nationals, Johnson said.

Hosted by the NAACP Miami-Dade Branch, the Feb. 11 event took place at Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Overtown. Module II, which includes architecture, science, humanities, business and oratory is scheduled for Feb. 25.

The criterion for judging is strict, Johnson said, adding that the students “must make the numbers. A gold medal requires a score of 95-100, and those numbers have to be met according to the national’s criteria.”

During the nationals, gold medalists win $2,000, silver and bronze winners take home $1,000. Students will also receive laptop computers.

There are no scholarships yet, Johnson said, “and we are working on that. We don’t have the budget right now but it is one of our built-in objectives.”

ACT-SO is a national program created in 1978 by the late syndicated columnist and renowned journalist Vernon Jarrett, who Hyacinth Johnson, ACT-SO Miami-Dade assistant chair and wife of Arthemon Johnson, described as “the black guru of journalism in the United States.”

Jordan, Hyacinth Johnson said, was “tired of our kids thinking that they needed to play sports and that was all they could do to become successful. He wanted (black students) to know that they are smart enough to succeed in anything they want to do.”

Anasé Frazier, 18, is passionate about writing and stage performance. “I try to do well, to get in tune with the hurt and pain,” the Felix Varela Sr. High School senior said of her dramatic presentation during the event.

Frazier performed an original monologue which she said “I wrote specifically for ACT-SO. I started writing in around 7th or 8th grade and discovered that I love it because my words can make people think.”

Although Frazier has not yet selected a college, she plans to major in a discipline of writing. “I just want to write what I feel and not be restricted, so it will likely be creative writing,” she said.

Gabrion Keys, a Miami Northwestern senior, has wanted to act since age 10. “It was a compilation of things,” the 17-year-old said of his motivation. “I watched people in the movies … actors can be anything or anybody they want to be, and that’s exciting.”

Keys, who performed a monologue from  Before Dawn, said that his experience with ACT-SO has “put me ahead of the game and prepared me for college.”

Keys plans to attend America’s Premier College of Performing Arts in Los Angeles and earn a degree in theater.

Students interested in competing in Module II may obtain registration forms at their schools, register online at, or contact Art Johnson, ACT-SO chairman, at 305-685-9436, e-mail

Cynthia Roby may be reached at