Akilah Johnson, a 10th grader from Washington, D.C., is Google’s top student doodler.
Johnson’s doodle, which honors her African-American heritage, is featured prominently on the Internet giant’s home page on Monday. It was selected from 100,000 submissions to the “Doodle 4 Google” competition for young artists.
This year, Google asked students from kindergarten to 12th grade to doodle “What makes me…me.”
Drawn as a box braid, Johnson’s doodle, entitled “My Afrocentric Life,” was brought to life with color pencils, black crayons and Sharpie markers. It celebrates African-American culture, weaving from left to right childhood experiences and shades of her personality with such current-day themes as the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I grew up learning a lot about my history as an African American. As I grew older, I realized that the black people that came before us has made us into what we are today, so of course I had to include them in my doodle,” said Johnson, who is the first African American to win the national competition.
Among those featured in the doodle are Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Angela Davis, Colin Powell and Bill Cosby,
How does it feel to have her artwork illustrate the Google home page for hundreds of millions to see?
“Amazing,” Johnson, 15, said in an interview shortly after winning the competition, her eyes glued to her phone as comments flooded social media.
“I didn’t think I was going to win,” she said. “Then when I got up there and it hit me, I started crying so hard. It was unbelievable.”
Johnson was one of 53 state and territory winners in the first year that D.C. was added as a standalone territory. Celebrity judges included the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, soccer player and Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan and actors Julie Bowen and B.J. Novak.
The five finalists were invited to Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus for the announcement. They had a day of workshops with the doodle team and guest judges such as astronaut Yvonne Cagle and animator Glenn Keane.
“Doodle 4 Google gave me an understanding of why art matters and why MY art matters — it’s because it speaks to people,” Johnson said. “No matter the differences we have, everyone is touched by all art in some way.”
Johnson will receive a $30,000 college scholarship and her school, Eastern Senior High School, will be awarded a $50,000 education-technology grant.
She’s visiting Google with mom Tikecia Johnson and teacher Zalika Perkins and is already dreaming about her future. She plans to study criminal justice or business in college in hopes of becoming a CSI detective — and she wants to start an arts and crafts studio for kids.
“The reaction she is getting from this is so positive. I think it’s going to propel her and open more doors for her,” Perkins said. “She did a great job of communicating who she is, her history and her culture. She has a gift for this.”
Johnson began drawing in second grade. She attended Roots Public Charter School and Roots Activity Learning Center in Washington, D.C., both of which she says forge a strong connection to students’ African heritage. Every month students celebrated an important African-American figure with a birthday cake, Johnson says. Those figures appear in her doodle.
Her inspiration for the doodle, she says, came from the quote: “Be the type of person that not only turns heads, but turns souls.”
Source: USA Today