What: ACT-SO orientation
When: 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Jan. 21
Where: Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts, 1301 Dallas Road
Information: Call Vincent Phipps at 423-400-1040 or visit www.chattanooganaacp.com
Cheryl Norris Sanders dreamed of being a professional singer-songwriter and poet, but she didn't know people who could tell her how to do it when she was growing up in Chattanooga in the 1960s and '70s.
Now as a committee member for the NAACP's Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, or ACT-SO, she is one of several people making sure this generation of youth has more opportunities.
"ACT-SO gives them opportunity to see where their path can lead, to actually see someone who has done what they dream and they're successful at it," Norris said.
NAACP members are recruiting young people to participate in ACT-SO. Students may compete in 26 categories in the sciences, humanities, business and performing and visual arts. ACT-SO officials are hosting an orientation for students in January.
"ACT-SO is an opportunity to display your greatness," said Vincent Phipps, ACT-SO's executive director.
More than 260,000 students have participated nationally since it started in 1978. About 50 to 60 students a year participate locally, but Phipps said he wants to increase participation to 100 students in 2012.
About 20 students signed up for the program when Phipps spoke at Notre Dame High School, while another 21 signed up at Volkswagen's diversity fair this month.
"Students have a chance not only to do what they love, but to be rewarded through scholarship and opportunities," Phipps said.
Students work with mentors and practice their skills throughout the semester, getting feedback about their talent from judges who are experienced in the craft.
"Try it. Sign up. Do it," said 17-year-old Dakari Kelly, who participated this year in a national ACT-SO competition in Los Angeles.
The Center for Creative Arts senior said he still talks with people he met at the competition, and his friends include one high school student saxophonist who played with Kenny G.
If the people at the competition aren't already famous, they're on their way to becoming famous, said Dakari, who won a gold medal in contemporary music during the local ACT-SO competition for playing the double bass.
Alysha Norwood won a gold medal in the local competition for photography and also competed in Los Angeles.
"It's fun. It's a learning experience," she said. "It's competitive, so make sure you know your material and practice."
She said the experience has allowed her to take pictures for a local health magazine and given her an opportunity to recite poetry at the Volkswagen diversity fair.
"I can brag on these kids all day long," Phipps said.
Students participate in a local competition in March and July, with the top performers going on to the national competition in Houston, where they can win a laptop computer and $5,000 cash.
Better still, Phipps said, they get to be in the same room with people who have become successful at their craft.
Grammy-winning singer Alicia Keys, actress Jada Pickett Smith and actor Blair Underwood were among the celebrities at past ACT-SO competitions, Norris said.