BALTIMORE- Hillsborough County NAACP team gave new meaning to Sunshine State as five students seized the spotlight by performing on a national stage and receiving top honors during the 38th Annual Afro-Academic Cultural and Science Olympics in Baltimore Maryland July 20-23, 2017. 


Sharing the stage with Hip Hop Legend, Kool Moe Dee, and Cornelius Smith Jr., an ACT-SO alum and star of ABC’s Scandal, included Middleton High’s Aaliah Harris who is also a rising senior. The fanfare began with Harris receiving an arena of cheers as her name was called representing the first Hillsborough County and Florida medal. Harris received the national bronze medal in the category of architecture.   “I screamed and jumped out of my seat,” said Dr. Jawan Ayer-Cole of Central Tampa Hematology and Oncology and Chairperson for Hillsborough County ACT-SO.  “This is why we work to support the youth,”  said Dr. Ayer-Cole.

Approximately 15 minutes later the name Hillsborough County ACT-SO would ring through the building again as Destinee Filmore was announced the silver medalist in Entrepreneurship.  With her patient smile, Filmore, like Harris earlier, stood with pride on the podium replicating a traditional Olympic honor.  However, in spectacular fashion, Filmore was announced again for the next category of sculpture, earning a bronze medal.  “Destinee is racking up,” said the award presenter as she returned to the stage. Filmore, receiving tremendous support from the audience, had become a recognizable personality due to an opening monologue as part of the main stage experience.  Filmore, a 2017 graduate of Blake High School is now a freshman at Spellman College in Atlanta.

Now with three medals claimed by Hillsborough County, all attention was on the category of dance as the ceremony drew to a close.  What about, Mahalia?  Mahalia Brookes was a 2015 ACT-SO competitor who did not place locally her first year competing. Students must be a gold medalist locally to earn a trip to compete nationally. Unfortunately, in 2016, ACT-SO did not have a local competition in Hillsborough County. 

“Once we restarted the program, Mahalia was one of our favorites to win, at minimum, a bronze medal,” said James Cole ACT-SO co-chair and NAACP Tampa Youth Council advisor.  Like the three medals before her, the arena roared as Mahalia’s name was called for the Silver medal in contemporary dance. Brookes a graduate of Blake High School is now attending Manhattan School of the Arts in New York.

“Our kids are resilient, like Mahalia Brookes. They have seen many adversities but they continue to stand and compete,” said Yvette Lewis, NAACP Hillsborough County Branch President.  “Our goal with the branch is to cultivate and encourage more students like Mahalia and the other winners,” said Albert Fields, Hillsborough County Branch Vice President.

Brimming like a proud parent, as each student received their medals, was Ersula Odom, member of the ACT-SO advisory committee. Odom served as a mentor and chaperon for the 2017 national team.  “It was wonderful believing in the absolute talent we have on our Hillsborough County Team,” said Odom who also encouraged the youth to audition for a spot in the national awards performance. 

Every youth who auditioned received a spot including, Dayjahnah White, and James Christian Cole who participated in the national choir. Participating in various monologues were, Destinee Filmore and Blake High graduate Ming Washington who competed in two categories of poetry. Washington was pulled aside following her performance poetry competition and her poem, To Build a Monster, was asked for permission to feature it on the NAACP National Twitter account. Like, Washington, Mahalia Brookes was pulled aside following her dance competition to participate on the national stage.  “You never know who is watching.  They may tap you on the shoulder and invite you to perform,” explained Odom during one of the team meetings. 

“This is only the beginning, said Dr. Ayer-Cole.  “We have confidence in the new direction of the NAACP and the partnerships we are forming with USF and re-establishing with the Hillsborough County School District.” It is the goal of Dr. Ayer-Cole and her advisory committee to transform the ACT-SO experience by beginning earlier in the year and sending a minimum of 20 students to nationals.  For more information about the new ACT-SO team and schedule visit. www.ACTSOTampa.org.

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