What is ACT-SO ?

Founded in 1978 by renowned author and journalist Vernon Jarrett, ACT-SO (an acronym for “Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological & Scientific Olympics”) is an olympic mentoring program whereby students demonstrate academic, artistic and scientific expertise. ACT-SO stimulates and encourages high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students.

The ACT-SO program spans an entire academic year beginning in the fall, followed by planning, mentoring and coaching of students through winter months, culminating in a local competitions in April and a national competition in July.  ACT-SO is based on the dedication and commitment of community volunteers and business leaders that serve as mentors and coaches.

Students who participate in ACT-SO work with mentors to help them develop projects in preparation to compete with other students in categories which include S.T.E.M., Humanities, Performing Arts, Visual Arts and Business. Students receive medals and prizes provided by the local and regional sponsors and contributors.

ACT-SO, often referred to as the “Olympics of the Mind”, seeks to promote the following:

  • Positive self-esteem
  • Positive interaction between our youth and the adult professional community
  • Positive academic and artistic excellence
  • High academic and cultural achievement

“ACT-SO is an emergency declaration of war on low expectations and the low level of scholastic achievement that plagues our minority communities.”
– Vernon Jarrett (ACT-SO Founder)

Mission & Goals

ACT-SO is rooted in the firm conviction that African American students can succeed and compete at the same or superior levels as their counterparts in classrooms, boardrooms and laboratories across this nation and abroad.  The mission of ACT-SO is to prepare, recognize and reward African-American youth who exemplify scholastic and artistic excellence.  The ACT-SO goals are:

  • To mobilize the adult community for the promotion of academic and artistic excellence among students of African descent.
  • To recognize academic and talent achievement among students of African descent.
  • To provide and assist students with the necessary skills to establish goals and acquire the confidence and training to make a successful contribution to society.

The benefits ACT-SO students receive from the enrichment and mentorship components include substantial assistance toward the development of their ACT-SO projects and valuable tools to assist them throughout their education

Famous ACT-SO Alumni

In its 30 year history an estimated 300,000 students have participated in ACT-SO. Over that time more than $354,000 in national competition prizes, bonds, monetary awards, laptop computers and scholarships have been awarded. Famed ACT-SO alumni include Jada Pinkett-Smith, Kanye West, Anthony Anderson and Alano Miller – just to name a few.

Jada Pinkett Smith


Kanye West


Anthony Anderson

Actor / Comedian

Alicia Keys


Who is Eligible to Participate

Students who are enrolled in high school (grades 9-12) are eligible to participate.

In addition, students must:

  • Be a United States Citizen
  • Be an individual who has demonstrated a genuine interest in one of the 31 categories
  • Submit a separate project, one contestant per category (a contestant may enter up to three (3) categories of competition)
  • Be of amateur status, having never performed as a professional in any categories of competition
  • Conform to the guideline requirements as dictated by the category(ies) chosen
  • Apply Online