The Hidden Genius Project works to help Black boys build careers around sports
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 3/6/2018, 1:55 p.m.
The Hidden Genius Project is changing lives. The Oakland, CA-based not-for-profit has partnered on some unique programming for youth with the World Champion Golden State Warriors. It all started in 29012 when five Black, male entrepreneurs from Oakland came together to create an organization that would train Black boys in technology creation, leadership skills and entrepreneurship. Nearly six years later, the Hidden Genius Project has put nearly 100 boys through its flagship 15-month intensive program, in which the participants learn to code in multiple languages, garner lessons in database development, entrepreneurship and leadership, and eventually develop full stack engineering projects, reports Forbes magazine. More than 3,100 kids have been served across all programs, and 20 high school-aged program graduates have already been trained as youth educators to help the next generation of hidden geniuses step into the light. Brandon Nicholson, executive director of the organization, says it’s all about meeting the young people where they are — literally and figuratively. That means being physically present in the community, and making forays into the foster care and juvenile justice systems to source participants. It also means taking the boys’ passions — specifically sports — and demonstrating the ways they can be connected to technology and entrepreneurship. “It’s important for the young people to understand they possess a great deal of potential, and they have plenty to offer,” Nicholson says. “Yes the odds of playing a single day of professional sports are low, but the larger picture is there’s so many pathways tied to professional sports whether it’s writing about it for Forbes, scouting, marketing, general counsel, everything under the sun. And so much of that integrates technology.” Nicholson adds, “You don’t have to stop loving sports or stop playing. Just understand there’s these pathways that can help you stay in that space even if you’re not playing someday.” That’s where the Warriors come in. Duringthe past two years, the Hidden Genius Project has partnered with the local professional basketball franchise on a number of events for its participants, including a STEM night at Oracle Arena in January and a recent event at Google’s headquarters with special guests Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee. “When the Warriors are on the docket, at least in the Bay Area, people are going to be there, so we’ve had a lot of successful events because they’ve been able to bring that drawing power.” In his efforts to tap the rich veins of opportunity present in and around San Francisco, Nicholson has partnered many other businesses, foundations and organizations. “What we’ve been able to accomplish in the last six years almost, is really on the back of strategic collaboration,” Nicholson tells me. “As we look towards expanding and growing in communities, it’s really going to be about participating in rich communities ecosystems that are [already] there.” In addition to the Warriors and Google, other institutions have thrown their support behind the Hidden Genius Project, including Uber, the Ford Family Foundation, the Barry Bonds Family Foundation, the Oakland Unified School District, TEAM Inc. and Kaiser Permanente. Hidden Genius Project’s current programming is in Oakland, but the organization has plans to expand into large markets such as Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C. as well as Los Angeles.