lian_plass_web.jpgMIAMI — While top athletes of the United States and the rest of the world were in final preparation for the London Olympics, another batch of American youth was gearing up for a different sort of challenge.

Hundreds of students from across the country were getting set for the annual NAACP ACT-SO competition that is otherwise known as “the Olympics of the Mind.”


And children of Miami-Dade County have been bringing home the gold, as well as silver and bronze, in fields ranging from mathematics, physics and computer science to sculpture, dance, music, painting and poetry.

Between 1980 and 2011, Miami-Dade youth have won 27 gold, 29 silver and 31 bronze medals for first-, second- and third-place wins.

This year’s Miami-Dade winners at the recent annual National ACT-SO competition in Houston, Texas, added to the collection with two golds and one bronze medal. They competed against 600 other contestants drawn from 5,000 who competed at the local level.

Curtis Holland, a recent graduate of Dr. Michael Krop High School, won first place in Dance and brought home a gold medal.

Holland, who will attend Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., this fall wowed the judges with his lightning fast tap dance to the Flight of the Bumblebee from the Green Hornet, bringing the crowd to its feet at the end of his performance.

Lian Plass, 2012 graduate of Design and Architecture High, won first place and the gold medal in Architecture.

Plass, who is set to study at Columbia University in the fall, took the judges to Africa with her design of an observation tower strategically attached to the world’s largest tree. 

Holland and Plass each received a $2,000 cash prize.


James Jackson, a 2012 graduate of Miami Jackson High, won third place and the bronze medal in Architecture. He received a $1,500 cash prize Jackson, salutatorian of his class, is headed to the University of Florida to study Architecture on a full scholarship.  He impressed the judges with his design of a two-story, three-bedroom home. He previously won the Architecture bronze during the 2011 ACT-SO competition.

A national initiative of the NAACP, ACT-SO – Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics – attracts hundreds of the nation’s most gifted young people each year to compete in 26 categories in the sciences, humanities, the performing arts, the visual arts and business.


Established more than 30 years ago by the late NAACP stalwart Vernon Jarrett, ACT-SO’s motto is, “Today’s Youth … Tomorrow’s Legends.” Jarrett, who believed that early recognition for academic achievement can have an immeasurable impact on a young person’s self-esteem, ambition and drive, sought to create a program in which young black scholars receive the same high praise given to athletic achievers.

More than 260,000 young people have participated in the program since its inception.

Doris Hart chaired the Miami-Dade ACT-SO committee from 1980-2009 and was also chairwoman of the Florida ACT-SO program for several years. Art Johnson took over after Hart retired. Anana Kambon is the program director.

Besides Holland, Jackson and Plass, several other Miami-Dade students won medals in the local Miami-Dade ACT-SO competition that made them eligible for the national contest.


They included Trevon Chambers, Miami Norland High School (Dramatics); Candice Dawson, Miami Coral Reef High School (Music Vocal Classicaland Contemporary); Lafae DuHaney, Miami Coral Reef High School (Music Instrumental Classical); Chance Gomez, Robert Morgan High School (Photography); Briana Hartfield, Miami Jackson High School (Poetry).

Also, Imanni Jennings, Dr. Michael Krop High School (Dramatics); Alexis Johnson, North Miami Beach High School (Business-Entrepreneurship); Netgie Laguerre, Dr. Michael Krop High School(Chemistry/Biochemistry); Melinda

Lubin, Miami-Edison High School, (Business-Entrepreneurship; Amanda Matthews-Pace, I-Prep Academy (Poetry).

Also,  Xerron Mingo, Miami Northwestern High School (Music Vocal Contemporary); Clarence Moore, Young Men’s Prep (Oratory); Junior Pedilus, Design and Architecture High (Painting); and Jane-Melissa Saint-Juste, New World School of the Arts (Dance). 

Plass was also a Miami-Dade gold medalist in drawing.


Plans are already underway for the 2013 National ACT-SO Competition at the site of the NAACP National Convention in Orlando. 

Information regarding registration for student participation will be distributed to Miami-Dade schools beginning mid-October.  

Principals, activities directors, CAP advisors, department heads and other school-based liaisons/contact persons will be advised of specific dates in late January/mid-February. 

For more information, call Art Johnson, ACT-SO chairman, 305-685-9436 or the Miami-Dade NAACP office, 305-685-8694. 

J. Ernestine Williams is a member of the Miami-Dade NAACP ACT-SO Leadership Team and a volunteer member of the group’s communi cations/media committee.

Photo courtesy of NAACP/Keith Allen