Tech Life: Revealing America’s Hidden Geniuses

with Brandon Nicholson of The Hidden Genius Project

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black men have the highest unemployment rate of any race or gender group and are underrepresented in the tech industry — where there are many unfilled jobs.

Brandon Nicholson, Executive Director of The Hidden Genius Project, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how “hidden geniuses” are learning critical skills to pursue advanced education and land jobs in the growing tech sector.

Posted on:

Jan 30, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: These hidden geniuses are getting an after-school education in science and technology. They're learning critical skills that may give them a leg up in pursuing advanced education and landing great jobs in a growing tech sector. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black men have the highest unemployment rates of any race and gender group, and are underrepresented in the tech sector, where there are many unfilled jobs. Joining me today is Dr. Brandon Nicholson. He's the executive director of the Hidden Genius Project. It's a California-based group that's working to educate the next generation of Black men to prepare them for jobs in tech. Brandon, thanks for being here.

Nicholson: Thanks for having me.

Anderson: When you started this organization, Silicon Valley was booming, but that boom didn't necessarily extend to or include people who looked like you, and who were living just a few miles away. How much was that related to why you and your partners decided to develop this project?

Nicholson: So, I would say it was mostly tangentially related, just in the sense that all those things were happening. But regardless, there were young people in our communities who needed our support, who were full of potential, and brilliant, and innovative. And, you know, we see so many young people who engage with technology on a daily basis, and do unbelievable, amazing things with it, especially Black youth. And so, we wanted to be able to empower those young people to understand how to build, create, and leverage technology in ways that could help them achieve their dreams, whether that's related to working in Silicon Valley, working in the culinary space, being a plumber, or a lawyer, whatever it might be, that this was a tool that we could equip them with, alongside entrepreneurship, and then anchoring in that leadership piece, to then help them really imagine themselves as the answer to all of their community's questions and potential challenges.

Anderson: So, you created an opportunity that came in the form of what is now a 15-month program for high school students. And it's focused on STEEM, with two Es -- science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, and math. What are some of the things that they're learning, the skills that they're gathering, that they can't get in school?

Nicholson: They're learning the fundamentals of computer science, and developing programs, developing technology, ranging from websites to mobile applications to video games. But many are also learning business fundamentals -- you know, how to build a business, do market analysis, how to form an entity, you know, for those who see themselves as budding entrepreneurs or business strategists. Then, finally, they're all wrapping all of that around with leadership, and exploring their own identity development, as well as who they want to be in their community, in the world, and issues of community and social justice, and how they might impact them.

Anderson: And I know that you guys have been doing this since 2012, so I'm wondering, what are some of the things that your Geniuses have gone on to do?

Nicholson: Yeah, so, I mean, the great news is we've got a ton of tremendous stories. We've had our young people graduate high school at levels north of 98% in our intensive program, entering post-secondary education at better than 90%. But we've got some fantastic stories ranging from one of our earliest alumni, Isaiah, who grew up in Oakland, graduated from Dartmouth College, and started, within the past year, as a software engineer at Microsoft. But then we have people taking entirely different paths. Elijah, in our first ever L.A. cohort, you know, he's the Churro Man Can -- tremendous name, and idea of building his churro business even as a high-schooler, and leveraging technology not just to promote it, but to enhance it, and just, you know, realizing his potential, manifesting his brilliance in an entirely different way, but in a way that matters just as much. So, we have tons of these stories, and we're happy to share them on our website and social media.

Anderson: And I know for you, that this whole organization, this project, wasn't about forcing inclusion in the tech industry. It was about something much bigger. Explain that for us.

Nicholson: That's right. I mean, we can't sit on our hands, and wait for -- to see change, or, you know, shift in -- in how, you know, C.E.O.s or leadership in Silicon Valley, or anywhere else, view us and our young people. At the same time, we see the future of the economy continuing to transform, and shift, and evolve where we're seeing technology in all things, no matter what our young people love. Whether they want to sell churros, whether they want to work in the sports space, whether they want to work as lawyers, or be an engineer, technology is going to be a big part of that. So, we're trying to see them to see their environment as a series of opportunities, and pathways, and options. And we're trying to build relationships, and networks, and skills around them, so that they can get to where they want to go. And we know that's true for young people in our program, but also true for young people writ large. They've got to be prepared to do many different things. And what they want to do can't be driven by the numbers and the whims of corporate America.

Anderson: Brandon, if people want to find out more about the project, where can they go? What's the website?

Nicholson: Well, we definitely hope that people visit our website hiddengeniusproject.org. We're on Twitter and Instagram @hiddengeniuspro. Also on Facebook, LinkedIn, and tell your friends, tell your family. We're excited to be launching a new site in 2022 in Detroit, and so, expanding our reach, as well. So, we hope more people will come to know about us, and learn about us. And yeah, we appreciate everyone's support.

Anderson: Brandon Nicholson of the Hidden Genius Project. Thank you so much for being here.

Nicholson: Thank you. I appreciate your time, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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