This year’s contest theme is: “What makes me…me.” And to answer that visually, Washington winner Akilah Johnson drew a box-braided Doodle, titled, “My Afrocentric Life,” using color pencils, black crayons and Sharpie markers. “Although it felt like forever making this picture, it only took me about two weeks,” Akilah tells The Post’s Comic Riffs.
“I based this picture off my lifestyle and what has made into what I am today,” the Eastern Senior High School sophomore stated as part of her entry.
“As a child, I attended Roots [Public Charter School] and Roots [Activity Learning Center]” in Northwest Washington,” Akilah tells The Post, “so I was raised in the ‘Afrocentric lifestyle.’ One of my teachers from Roots, Baba Camera, is really what made me look at art in a different way. As I grew older, I had realized that the black people that came before us has made us into what we are today, so of course I has to include them in some way.”
I ask Akilah about the careful composition of her work, which reflects bright childhood themes and then moves into more serious reflections on society. “Your inference was correct,” Akilah replies. “Just as we read from left to right, my goal was to make the picture turn heads from the color to the meaning. I have a book that I use that’s full quotes, and the one I went by for this picture was: ‘Be the type of person that’s not only turns heads, but turns souls.’ ”
On Friday morning, Akilah was celebrated at a school assembly. “I was very surprised and overwhelmed when I found out I won,” Akilah says. “I’m very goofy, so I just started going around smiling and telling everyone, even the people I didn’t know. 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.”
Elsewhere in the region, Preston Sakata of Herndon Elementary is the Virginia winner for “My Self Portrait,” in which he drew paper cranes “to represent my Japanese heritage”; and Anjali Pulim of Clarksville Middle School is the Maryland winner for “Owls Be Chillin’,” in which the animals are sculpted from polymer clay.
This year’s competition, which attracted about 100,000 entries, encouraged a multimedia approach. The celebrity judges include athletes Steph Curry and Alex Morgan; astronaut Yvonne Cagle; performers Julie Bowen and B.J. Novak; and animator Glen Keane (“Tangled”).
Five national finalists will now be determined by public vote, which is open until Feb. 22. To vote, go to the Doodle4Google site.
The winner will see their work featured prominently on Google’s home page, and will also receive a $30,000 college scholarship. The student artist’s school will be awarded a $50,000 Google for Education grant “towards the establishment and improvement of a computer lab or technology program.” The finalists will also get prizes.
As for Akilah, at least some of the rewards have already arrived. “Art and dance art my two biggest hobbies, [and] I always said that I don’t think that I’d do art as a career, but just maybe on the side,” Akilah tells The Post. “But after seeing what Doodlers for Google do, I’ve actually found a little bit of interest in it.”
[This post has been updated.]