JUST LAST month, Akilah Johnson was “surprised and overwhelmed” when she learned that she was a national finalist in the “Doodle 4 Google” contest for elementary through high school students.
Imagine how she feels now.
Akilah, a sophomore at Eastern Senior High School in Northeast Washington, has just been named Google’s big winner in the national contest, topping the 53 state and territory champions, whose work had been culled from about 100,000 student entries.
Akilah is the contest’s first winner from Washington, as D.C. was not eligible to enter the states-only competition in past years. (The Post’s Comic Riffs had joined the chorus of voices urging that the District be included.)
This year’s contest theme was: “What makes me…me.” Akilah drew a box-braided Doodle, titled “My Afrocentric Life,” using color pencils, black crayons and Sharpie markers. The Doodle includes symbols of black heritage and signs representing the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I based this picture off my lifestyle,” she stated as part of her entry, which is featured today on Google’s home page.
Akilah’s composition reflects bright childhood themes on the left, then moves into more serious reflections on society. “Just as we read from left to right, my goal was to make the picture turn heads from the color to the meaning,” Akilah told Comic Riffs last month. “I have a book that I use that’s full [of] quotes, and the one I went by for this picture was: ‘Be the type of person [who] not only turns heads, but turns souls.’ ”
And today, all eyes were turned toward Akilah, who brought her mother, Tikecia Johnson, and Perkins along on the trip to California. “I never imagined we would be here,” Perkins says today, “but she totally earned it.”
Besides seeing her work spotlighted on Google’s home page, Akilah will receive a $30,000 college scholarship, and her high school will be awarded a $50,000 Google for Education grant “towards the establishment and improvement of a computer lab or technology program.” She also will get to meet with professional artists at Google’s headquarters.
Eastern High celebrated Akilah with an assembly last month, when she was announced as a finalist. “I’m very goofy, so I just started going around smiling and telling everyone, even the people I didn’t know,” Akilah said in February. “Before the assembly started, I was pretty nervous, but after a while, I warmed up and it felt great to have all of my peers support me.”
<Reprint from Washington Post, 3/21/16>