The word “electrifying” is often overused to describe an exciting performance. But there is probably no better way to describe David Green’s three-minute dance at the very end of today’s second annual NAACP Olympics of the Mind showcase at Matanzas High School’s Pirates Theater: set to a tune that itself sounded like an alternating current of energy, Green, a student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, his face masked in bright white to match his shirt, pants and shoes, moved on stage in staccato rhythms that spread over his body as if each of his limbs were its own soul, and he was merely their choreographer.
It was a jolting, provoking end to nearly three hours of dances, songs, oratorical speeches, musical performances, dramatizations and videos that displayed the talent of the students in the county’s ACT-SO program—the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, a national, yearlong achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. The local program, incidentally, is not closed to white students, says program co-chair Richlin Ryan. But none participated.
“It’s so exciting today to be in the company of these children and to experience the fruit of their labor,” Stephanie Ecklin, program co-chair, said from the stage in her closing remarks before walking to the edge of the stage, leaning forward, her eyes locked on several of the 13 judges in the audience to tell them: “You have a tough job.”
It’s not just the performing arts. Students also entered short stories or original essays, drawings, photographs, sculptures and a work of science—some three dozen entries in all that the judges will choose from, with the winners qualifying to compete in the national competition, which this year will be held in mid-July in Orlando. It’s held in conjunction with the NAACP’s annual convention, starting on July 11 at the Orange County Convention Center.
For Flagler County, this is just the second year of participation. “Our first year the kids were good,” Ecklin said. “This year, the kids were great.”
The judges had just been treated to a series of compelling performances in the closing hour of the show, including two arresting moments in the form of drama and oratory: Jalen Davis performed an excerpt from Jim Grimsley’s “A Bird of Prey,” a brief 1999 work reflecting the grimmest, deadliest of world that adolescent face. Davis’s performance, restrained and poignant, included the description of a shooting spree in a day care center that was bound to resonate with the audience in light of the Newtown massacre in December.
Ni Casey Mahome then delivered a speech on “Success,” drawing creatively from the works and ideas of Thoreau and Walt Disney to argue for a version of success that doesn’t let itself be defined by how others see it, but only by how the individual sees it for himself, or herself: “Do you want to be a success for society, or a success for yourself?” Mahome ended to applause.
It was another inspired touch by the event’s organizers to pick Andre Maybin Jr., the actor and natural comic, to emcee the show: he pranced, mimicked, joked and complimented between every act, gilding the performances with the sort of wit that never let the afternoon get carried away with its own seriousness. And his timing was ideal, too, as when he joked about the blindingly hot-pink gloves Xavier Ryan wore as walked on stage before sitting down n at a grand piano to perform a prelude by Bach. It was the sort of pink that, in contrast with his black and white suit and bowtie, were more evocative of the Pink Panther than Glenn Gould, the late and great pianist who, among his endless affectations, wore gloves torn at the fingertips ostensibly to keep his hands warm. That, too, was Ryan’s explanation after the show, though Maybin didn’t let him get away with it.
“He wore them in sympathy with breast cancer awareness,” Maybin announced to the audience as Ryan shook his head with helpless no’s.
But Ryan, the reigning Flagler County Entertainer of the Year, redeemed himself with that Bach prelude, once he decided—after an eternity and a half of preparing himself at the keyboard—to let his ungloved fingers rip. (It was Bach’s Prelude in C minor from Book I of the Well Tempered Clavier. Here’s Gould playing it.)
The winners of the competition will be announced at the awards banquet at the African American Cultural Center in Palm Coast on April 27, beginning at 5 p.m. The public is welcome.
The judges: Cheryl Rue-Duncan, Mary King, Teach Culver, John Sbordone, Paul Mercado, JJ Graham, John Winston, Tanesha Nelson-Cheptoo, Charles Combopiano, Ester Jackson, A.J. Neste and Ed Pinto.