NASHVILLE, TENN — NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Over the past few days leaders of the NAACP have presented their convention delegates with presidential hopefuls, governors and mayors and corporate chief executive officers. But the show they wanted to share with the world was held yesterday.
It featured a young high school graduate from the Friends School in Baltimore who sent the audience into a frenzy -- not with an angry rap song but with a rousing piece of classical music that he composed.
"It's so terrific to be surrounded by young, talented African-Americans," said Shawn Peterson, 17, in the middle of hugs from dozens of other teen-agers. "There's absolutely nothing like it."
Some 1,500 high school students from 750 cities came to the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to compete in the annual "Olympics of the Mind."
The Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, said the Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics competition was organized over 10 years ago to demonstrate that black youth aspire to do more than play professional sports or star in music videos. Over the weekend, students competed for gold, silver or bronze medals in categories that included dance, poetry, music composition, physics, mathematics and architecture.
The winners were announced yesterday at a ceremony that had the rowdiness of television's "Showtime at the Apollo" and the glitz of the Academy Awards.
"This is a powerful room, the most powerful room in America right now," said actor Richard Lawson, who stars on the soap opera "All My Children." "Before you are a group of people committed to academic excellence because they know not everyone can play football or basketball. These are competitors in the real world."
The show was charged from beginning to end. Almost every student who won a medal received a standing ovation as he or she approached the stage.
"That's what's so great about it," said Rosamond S. King, a student from Potomac, Md., who represented Montgomery County in the poetry competition. "The competition is stiff, but there is strong unity. Everyone supports each other."
Yesterday, after four attempts, Shawn won the gold ACT-SO medal for classical music composition.
Dozens of students from Maryland participated in the competition. Other winners included: Nicole Pitts of Silver Spring, who won a silver medal in chemistry, and Cathy Elliott, a graduate of Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, who won a gold medal for music composition.
Shawn, a thin, striking boy who was raised in Cherry Hill and began playing the piano when he was 4, participates in several competitions each year. But he says none is as fun as ACT-SO. And even after he goes off to study music and theater at Vassar College in the fall, he plans to return to support the students in next year's competition.