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Duluth NAACP starts program to engage, mentor high school students

Students involved in ACT-SO will have the opportunity to work with a mentor on a project to present at a competition with the hopes of moving on to the national competition this summer.

Abbey DeLise talks with volunteer Christina Trok at the Duluth NAACP ACT-SO Kick-off event
Abbey DeLise talks with volunteer Christina Trok at the Duluth NAACP ACT-SO Kick-off event at Duluth Denfeld on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The Duluth NAACP has launched a program aimed at expanding horizons and sharpening skills of Black and African heritage high school students.

The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, known as ACT-SO, is a national NAACP program that allows students to compete in 32 fields like performing arts, to science, business, technology and more. The program had its initial meeting at Denfeld High School on Tuesday.

"Basically, students develop a project or a performance that they work on with the help of other community partners and mentors," NAACP Vice President Abbey DeLisle said. "Then they work to compete at a local level, which will happen this spring sometime, and if they win, they move on to compete at the national NAACP conference in July in Atlantic City this year."

Students can demonstrate their talents in up to three competition areas and can pick any of the three to work on. Students can also work together on a project. Winners of the competition receive college scholarships.

Abbey DeLisle talks with students about joining ACT-SO
Abbey DeLisle talks with students about joining a new high school program for Black students at the Duluth NAACP ACT-SO Kick-off at Duluth Denfeld on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"It's very much a student-led program, which is amazing because there aren't a lot of those which are truly student-led," NAACP President Classie Dudley said.

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For Dudley, the program is also a way to give back to the students in the community and ensure they're connected with the resources they need to grow and develop.

"The kids are our future. We want them to grow and succeed here," Dudley said. "I know when I was growing up here, a lot of my complaints were that there wasn't anything for me to do here. My dad always challenged me that if there's nothing to do, then create it. So I want to give that back to these students."

DeLisle said she hopes bringing the program to Duluth will help bridge some racial disparity gaps.

"Here in the Duluth community, the Black community doesn't have a lot of infrastructure for programming for high school students," DeLisle said. "There are a lot of disparities in the school district, so to be able to bring these resources and representation into this academic setting and showing kids what's out there beyond Duluth and beyond their high school is really important."

DeLisle is spearheading the new program with Duluth NAACP Young Adults Committee co-chairs John Staine and Liza Williamson.

"It's a stepping stone to success," Staine said. "From what I hear from other programs, students who get involved in this program will graduate, then come back and become mentors themselves. We're hoping to get that cycle going here."

For more information on ACT-SO, contact Abbey DeLisle at vicepresident@duluthnaacp.org or visit duluthnaacp.org/ACT-SO.

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