Staff photo/Mark Vergari
For the past two years, Benjamin George
Jr.'s pencil drawings have won a gold medal and $1,000 in
scholarship money in the NAACP ACT-SO contest. He has been
accepted into Virginia Polytechnic State University..
When he was
a small boy growing up on the tiny island of
Dominica, between the better-known French tourist
islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the West Indies,
Benjamin George Jr. could hardly imagine his artistic
"I started drawing with pencil and paper
when I was nine years old. It was just for fun. I didn't expect it to
lead to anything," he said.
Earlier this month he left his Mount Vernon
home for Los Angeles to compete in the national ACT-SO, an academic
scholarship program sponsored by the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People.
ACT-SO, an acronym for Afro-American
Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, has been held
regularly since 1976 to encourage black youth to strive for excellence
in academic and cultural pursuits.
"I was very proud to be in the
competition." said George, who is 21. "I think this
competition does a great deal for black youth."
George, one of eight children, lives with his
parents and five siblings. The others are married. His father work as
a chef. His mother is a homemaker.
"I knew all about the competition,"
he said, as he sat at home in his 17 Rich Ave. apartment after
returning from California. "I was in it last year at Detroit. I
won the gold medal and $1,000 in college scholarship money then."
After graduation from Mount Vernon High
School in June and acceptance at Virginia Polytechnic State
University, George worked on deciding what drawings to enter in this
"I specialize in portraits. I took my
favorite piece, a drawing of a woman in a steam room, and flew out
west," he said.
The program, which includes competition in
visual arts, performing arts, literary arts and applied, technical and
social sciences, was held in a downtown Los Angeles hotel.
"When I entered the room where all the
drawings paintings and sculpture were exhibited, I walked around and
viewed all the works being entered by the other youth. I saw what I
was up against," he said.
George said the excitement built all day
long. He admitted he was extremely nervous, even with the experience
of a previous win in Detroit.
"We were all going crazy as each names
was called for each category," he said. "I sat there with my
hands sweating and my heart beating rapidly. The first name, the
third-place winner, was called. Then the second-place winner, another
youth from Brooklyn, was named."
Then the winner in the drawing category was
being announced. George remembered the moment.
"I was frozen in my seat and couldn't
move when my name was called," he said. "I finally jumped up
and ran on stage to receive my gold medal and the $1,000 scholarship
George expects to major in visual arts and
illustration at college and minor in computer graphics. He enjoys
working with computers and also sells computers at his part-time job
at a Mount Vernon Radio Shack store.
"I am not sure whether I will go into
computer graphics or try to make a career in the art field," he
said. "I'm happy I don't have to make that decision now."
George said his one great regret about his
final victory in the high school competition is that he cannot meet
and compete against so many of the people he enjoyed meeting the last
couple of years.
"Actually this was my third try. I went
as a sophomore and didn't receive a mention. It just made me more
determined," he said.
George, a modest young man, said he didn't
think his achievement was that exceptional or beyond the capabilities
of many of his schoolmates in the area.
"I believe if you give something a try
and believe in yourself, you can do it," he said. "Nothing
is impossible if you really want it."
The accomplishments of Benjamin George are
not only significant for himself but even more so as a community
This youngster came from the West Indies less
than nine years ago. Now he is on threshold of wonderful academic and
professional success. No goal is truly out of reach.
Maury Allen is a staff writer and columnist for Gannett