Science, arts competition gives youngsters hope

April 25, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Western High School's Lekelia "Kiki" Jenkins won a gold medal for playwrighting in an "Olympics of the Mind" sponsored by the NAACP last year.

Yesterday, she turned her pen to poetry for the 16th annual "Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics" competition at Mervo High School near Baltimore's Lake Montebello.

The contest gathered more than 100 students from 50 metro area high schools who competed in categories from oil painting to architecture to computer science.

The best of them -- gold, silver, and bronze medal winners to be announced at a May 12 banquet -- will go on to national finals this year in Indianapolis.

Baltimore has done well at the national level, particularly in 1991 when 12 local students made it to the finals and seven won medals.

Last year, Kiki's one-act play called "Jigsaw" made it to the national finals in Nashville, where she failed to place.

"I wrote it in my head for a year and a half," said Kiki, a 17-year-old who lives in the Gwynn Oak section of Northwest Baltimore. "And it took me three months to get it down on paper. The judges wanted a traditional resolution and my play didn't have it," she said. "We've never been able to solve racism and prejudice in this country. How am I going to solve it in a play?"

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stresses that the medals are a secondary reward of the ACT-SO effort and wants applause for the project spread among everyone who works to coax scholastic or artistic achievement from a young African-American.

"We are out to make heroes and heroines of our dedicated young black scholars, artists and scientists, who usually are ignored," wrote Vernon Jarrett, national ACT-SO chairman, in a history of the competition.

"We believe that through ACT-SO, the national scores of black youths can be eventually raised to match -- or even surpass -- the achievement levels of all other ethnic groups."

To get to the finals at the NAACP convention in Indianapolis this summer, Kiki Jenkins entered a self-absorbed work titled "Blood."

She wrote, in part:

"Sometimes my skin seems brown,

Other times reddish-brown

Or even yellowish-brown;

Today it seems orangish-brown . . . My skin never seems black . . ."

Guy Jones, a painter who teaches at Morgan State University, and James E. Lewis, a local sculptor best known for his rendering of Frederick Douglass on the Morgan campus and a memorial to "The Black Soldier" at Lexington and Calvert streets downtown, judged the visual competition.

"I think this provides the young artist with a lot of hope," said Mr. Jones, who added that nothing like ACT-SO existed when he struggled to find his way as a young painter. "It gives them the feeling that somebody is interested."

The nationally known Mr. Lewis found no prodigies among the competitors -- no work that really knocked him out.

But he was impressed by the independence of the young artistic mind.

"There're some good students here who have stuck to their guns," he said. "Individual themes -- even in the traditional areas of color and composition -- make it exciting for the young artist."

It excited 16-year-old Theresa Cunningham, who competed in drama, just to perform in front of other people.

"I did a five-minute scene from 'Long Time Since Yesterday,' by P. J. Gibson," said Theresa, another Western student who earned a gold medal at the local level last year. "There's a part of me in every character I play, and a part of me I don't even know is there comes alive when I'm on the stage."

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