Nashville NAACP Branch President Venita Lewis encourages high school students to participate in ACT-SO.

By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics are being revived locally by NAACP Branch leaders who invite adults to help students succeed.

The Rev. Venita Lewis, president of the Nashville Branch, assigned John Little to chair a
committee that’s organizing the return of ACT-SO. Little has been leading committee meetings every Wednesday evening.

“We’re looking for mentors and judges, depending on the category” of what’s being
accomplished in the program, Little said last weekend.
Little encourages potential mentors to contact him at or (615) 584-4616.

High school students in ACT-SO “sharpen their skills” during a 12-month program with
community-based volunteers to develop projects and performances, according to “The experience culminates in local and national events where students compete for scholarships and other rewards.”

ACT-SO may not be widely known here. If so, Lewis and Little are forgiving and Branch
members aim to change that.

“It’s a program that this branch let go for more than 14 years,” Lewis said. “We’re bringing it back this year.”

The NAACP encourages students to participate so they may pursue their creative talents and academic dreams with purpose and unrestricted passion.
The national association has a long-range vision for ACT-SO: “The fight for civil rights is a
multigenerational effort. Our continued legacy of disrupting inequality, dismantling racism, and accelerating change depends on the energy and ideas of young activists. We work with young leaders to beef up their advocacy skills and celebrate their talents all while tackling issues important to them.”

The experience culminates in local and national events where students compete for scholarships and other rewards.

“It’s where young African Americans put their talents on the line and compete,” Lewis said.
Here, competition starts in the spring with events on April 29 at Tennessee State University. It can lead students to a higher level

“During the first days of the national convention,” Lewis said, “there are children competing
from all over the country. The awards are up to more than $300,000 in scholarships.”
She’s passionate about ACT-SO because of her experience.

“I had a teacher who saw that I have an ability to compete in poetry and oration,” Lewis said. “When I was in the 9th grade, she started taking me to competitions around Tennessee … in the 1970s. There was never another Black” at those events.
Nevertheless, Lewis sees similarities between her experience and what she wants for Davidson County students. Her teacher helped her go to college with a speech and drama scholarship.

“If not for her, I would not have gone to college,” Lewis said, “so my hope is that we take this on. It’s a great opportunity for kids to attend school, be awarded scholarships, and afford an education… I loved it. I was in poetry and one-act plays.

“Being from a small, rural town in Texas, from a poor family, and finding success; that was the driving force for me to bring back ACT-SO.”

In addition to being the branch president of the NAACP here, Lewis runs her own non-profit organization, ministers to fellow parishioners at her church and previously led her own congregation. She’s also worked in management for an international corporation.

Lewis says rapper Kanye West was an ACT-SO contestant. ACT-SO’s website lists its famous alumni, including actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, comedian Anthony Anderson, filmmaker John Singleton, actor Michael Beach, and musician Roy Hargrove. Since its inception, more than 260,000 students have benefited from ACT-SO.