Bridgette Fahnbulleh enters a bustling community room and sits near the wall to take in the sights and sounds. Ambitious high school students and passionate volunteers are crowded around large tables. This bustling space all started as an idea two years ago. Now, dozens of people have dedicated roughly 25 Saturdays to be part of the Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) Achievement program.
This program encourages academic and cultural achievement among African American students through project-based learning. Pairing up with volunteer mentors, students bring their ideas to life in various creative and career categories. The whole experience culminates in local and national events where students present their work to compete for scholarships and accolades.
Bridgette is one of the architects who launched the ACT-SO Achievement program at NAACP Vancouver. In its first year, two local students received medals on the national stage. This year, the group built on its success by securing a multi-year grant from the Community Giving Fund to expand youth programming and hire a staffer to lead the program.
With the added capacity, the ACT-SO Achievement program engaged 180 more students this year. Kyla Palmer is a sophomore who came back for her second year after making it to the national competition. She got involved because its paths and opportunities seemed exciting, especially the health and medicine track.
“In healthcare, there are not a lot of people of color or women, so it’s difficult to find a way in,” Kyla said. “Through ACT-SO, I got paired up with an amazing mentor from PeaceHealth who’s also an African American woman, which was awesome.”
Representation is one reason NAACP Vancouver started the program. Its culturally specific approach helps youth see and connect with successful students and professionals who they can relate with. ACT-SO also fills a gap in local schools. Bridgette said the existing enrichment programs don’t make Black students feel seen or welcomed. According to her, this void makes it hard to address the racism and low expectations directed toward Black students at school.
“It’s not subtle. They get called the N-word. They get told that they’re not good enough,” Bridgette expressed. “But when they come here, we really emphasize excellence, potential and college.”
Kyla said the ACT-SO Achievement program has been a major influence on her. She is more confident, passionate and aware of the opportunities in front of her. Her trip to the national competition was eye-opening. The experience affirmed her plan to go to medical school and become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“Everything about it pushes you to be great,” she said. “For me, I want to do whatever is in my power to make sure people of color are not taken advantage of or left in the dark when it comes to healthcare. I want to be a role model or mentor for the next generation and have a bigger impact.”
The talent and drive of students like Kyla inspired Bridgette to take ACT-SO one step further. Working with the Community Foundation, she shared early success stories that inspired five fundholders to provide seed funding for the NAACP ACT-SO Scholarship Fund. The fund is already supporting a brighter future for two ACT-SO students who are applying their talents and excellence at the next level.
Keep ACT-SO Students Achieving
You can help invest in a brighter future for ACT-SO students who are planning to pursue a post-secondary credential. Support the NAACP ACT-SO Scholarship Fund and make their dreams all that more possible.