CLOSER LOOK: Tech Careers Encouraged Among Black Youth Through ‘Hidden Genius’

Posted on Friday, September 17, 2021 by Kindra Ponzio, ed Marya Morgan

(K-LOVE Closer Look) –The Hidden Genius Project launched when five business and tech titans, all black men, partnered to mentor black boys for careers in science and technology. Rooted in inner-city Oakland California, they established a training system which since 2012 has expanded south to Los Angeles and even internationally to London, England and South Africa. 

Brandon Nicholson, founding Exec Dir. is an Oakland native who returned to his hometown after earning his college degree on the east coast. In the years since he joined the effort, more than 7,000 teenagers have been through various classes and seminars, but he says the central gem of Hidden Genius is its 15-month Immersion Program. Young black boys in 9th-11th grade commit to two intensive summers of study, after-school workshops and one Saturday a month for about 800 total hours of instruction.  The boys are matched with mentors to learn all aspects of computer science and upon completion graduate with their own web, software or business project.

“A lot of people think it’s to train a bunch of coders or software engineers,” says Nicholson, but ”I think what people should understand first and foremost is that it’s really about creating a safe, fun, healthy space to be together and be themselves.”

Nicholson prefers to call the tech skills “icing,” emphasizing instead the positive influence the boys have on and beyond the black community. Not only do 95% of program participants graduate from high school, but many go on to head up other impactful social outreach programs in and around town. 

People may “wonder ‘why just boys, why just black boys,’” explains Nicholson, but “when you make that investment as we do…then it effectively deputizes these leaders in the community… we’ve been able develop an entire infrastructure that allows us to train and empower our young leaders to then lead others.”

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