WASHINGTON – David McCullough,15,of Austin,Texas,has never been a nervous public speaker. McCullough has recited the poetic sermon “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson,at various Austin churches since he was 7.
Now,after years of perfecting his performance,he recited the poem at the national finals of the Academic,Cultural,Technological and Scientific Olympics,or ACT-SO.
“One day I want to be a youth minister. I like to speak. I like to act,and I like the feeling of having power in my voice and presenting myself in front of an audience,” he said. “I am about to go up there and show people that as an African-American male,I can be articulate and can be heard.”
McCullough,a rising sophomore at Lyndon B. Johnson High School,is one of 900 high school students participating in the competition sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
On Sunday,at the Washington Convention Center,75 of the students will become national winners,with a gold,silver or bronze medals and wireless laptop computers.
The students are winners of 200 local competitions across the nation and have united in Washington to match wits,interact and learn from each other. The 25 competition categories are in the sciences,humanities,visual and performing arts. Students can compete in up to three categories.
“ACT-SO brings together the best and the brightest,but it also takes the some of the kids on a life-altering journey,so they have experiences that they may not have had before,” Anana Kambon,national director of ACT-SO,said.
Some past participants include rapper Kanye West,actress Jada Pinkett-Smith,singer-songwriter Erykah Badu,filmmaker John Singleton and comedian Anthony Anderson.
ACT-SO is a yearlong enrichment program that began in 1978. It is designed to encourage academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students.
Britni Lonesome,18,is participating in the ACT-SO chemistry competition with an analysis of the benefits of polymer implants for people with tuberculosis.
“The problem with tuberculosis treatment now is that patients have to take four pills every day for 6 ½ months,and that's a high dosage,” she explained. “People in third-world developing countries,where tuberculosis has been,they can't do that because resources are limited,so I am trying to find a way to deliver the medicine they need,in less doses,and polymer implants allow for that.”
She found that a polymer implant the size of a dime can provide the most consistent and safe delivery of medicine for tuberculosis patients for more than three months,which for many patients could be the full treatment.
Lonesome graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute,a high school. During her senior year,she spent three hours a day at Johns Hopkins University doing research for her project. She has accepted a full-tuition scholarship at the Baltimore university and plans to major in chemical engineering.
Justus Roberts II,18,is a recent graduate of Wharton High School in Tampa,Fla.,and has appeared on “Oprah,” “Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition,” with his 13-year-old sister,Jasmine,to discuss their research projects.
For four years,he has studied the possible benefits of human umbilical cord blood on stroke victims. He injected the white blood cells of human umbilical cord blood into rats,after inducing strokes,and then dissects the rats,gathering results.
“I found that once the cord blood cells are injected into the stroke rats,that inflammation decreases and that apoptosis,or cell death,decreases,therefore benefiting the stroke victim,” he said.
Carmen Collins,15,will be a junior at Round Rock High School in Round Rock,Texas,in the fall. Competing in the instrumental-classical music category,Collins played “Danse Rustique” by William Henry Squire on her cello. This is her first visit to Washington.
“It's all really fun and I have met a lot of people. The competitors are just amazing,doing stuff you wouldn't expect a high-schooler to be able to do,” she said.
The ACT-SO competition precedes the NAACP's 97th Annual Convention in Washington,which runs through July 20.