Dane County NAACP ACT-SO students

The NAACP Dane County Branch will kick off its 2019-2020 Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) season with a Student Parent Orientation & Workshop this Saturday at Madison College South.  For several young people from the Madison area, participation in this competition has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experience.

“This is our 6th year now and the 6th year we have entered the National NAACP ACT-SO competition,” Frances Huntley-Cooper, 2019-20 chair of the local Dane County NAACP ACT-SO, tells Madison365. “During the first five years – and this is a small branch, mind you – we have had three silver medal winners at the national competition.”

The NAACP’s ACT-SO is a yearlong achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage academic excellence, personal development and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. Every July, the National ACT-SO Competition and Ceremony is held to bring together students from all over the country to compete for high honors and great prizes.

So far, Madison-area youth have had some remarkable national successes. At the 39th National NAACP ACT-SO Competition & Ceremony in July of 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland, Amadou Kromah won a silver medal for photography. At last year’s 41st National NAACP ACT-SO Competition & Ceremony in Detroit, Danielle Crim won a silver medal for music competition and Maurissa Powell won a silver medal for dance/ballet.

Frances Huntley-Cooper

 “In 2018, we had an excellent student, Jhanae Harris, who went to the National NAACP [2nd Annual] Hollywood Arts and Intensive Program in Los Angeles. Many people know her here in Madison for being part of [teenage music group] Trilogy,” Huntley-Cooper says. “Jhanae was one of 10 students selected to go from around the country. She did master workshops, went to Disney, met [star of hit TV show ‘Black-ish’] Anthony Anderson. She ended up going to the NAACP Image Awards. She did so many amazing things. 

“We have four students, in my mind, who have been just such amazing ambassadors for the NAACP ACT-SO program who went beyond the local level to put us on the national scene,” Huntley-Cooper adds. “But then we’ve also had excellent students locally – whether they were able to move forward or not – who were great students and had fun and we are very proud of them.”

ACT-SO includes 32 competitions in STEM, humanities, business, and performing, visual and culinary arts. Almost 300,000 young people have participated from the program since its inception.

 Beyond the great experiences, NAACP ACT-SO students can walk away with some really cool prizes.

Amadou Kromah

“All of the students that won silver medals at national walked away with a $1,500 scholarship,” Huntley-Cooper says. “Amadou [Kromah] got a Samsung I-Pad. The kids this year got a I-Pad 6. And they get bragging rights for life. That’s not bad for throwing together a little project.”

The local NAACP ACT-SO competition will be held Saturday, April 18, 2020 at Edgewood College. The following Saturday the NAACP ACT-SO Awards Ceremony will be held, also at Edgewood College. The 42nd National NAACP ACT-SO Competition & Ceremony will be held July 22-27, 2020 in Boston.

Part of Huntley-Cooper’s job has been to get the word out to Dane County youth about this great program. Many people don’t even know that it exists.

“The first two years, I went out to every high school to let young people know about it,” she says. “We’d get 30-40 kids during the lunch hour and just talk about the program. We’d walk away and kids just wouldn’t follow through. They were excited while we were there, but they didn’t follow through. 

“I’ve also been at HBCU Fairs and at open houses for kids at school. We’ve gotten a table at the 100 Black Men of Madison’s Backpacks for Success,” she adds. “We go to the churches and have reached out to MMSD. My experience is that it really helps to have a parent involved to make sure the young people follow through.”

For over 40 years the mission of ACT-SO has been to prepare, recognize and reward youth of African descent who exemplify scholastic and artistic excellence. Their goals are to mobilize the adult community for the promotion of academic and artistic excellence, recognize creative talent and academic achievement, and provide and assist students with the necessary skills to establish goals and acquire the confidence and training to make a successful contribution to society.

The road begins at this Saturday’s NAACP ACT-SO Student Parent Orientation & Workshop at Madison College.

“The workshop that we are having on Saturday will give young people an opportunity to really find out what the program is like,” Huntley-Cooper says. “We talk about the experiences that they can have and some of the kids who have been there before will talk about everything they got out of the program.”

African-American high school students who are interested can fill out an ACT-SO application here.  

“We would like them to get the application in and we need them to come to the workshop,” Huntley-Cooper says. “You don’t have to pre-register for Saturday’s event but we would prefer that they do.”


NAACP ACT-SO Student Parent Orientation & Workshop will be held Saturday, Nov. 2, at Madison College Goodman South campus, 2429 Perry Street., 2nd floor, noon-4 p.m.