Black Tech Professionals Launch Summer Mentor Program for Teenage Boys in Oakland

If you’re a Black family with kids with an interest in science or computers send them to the San Francisco Bay Area. If you’re already there, you’re lucky. There are a growing number of groups in that area focused on reaching out to young girls and boys in urban communities and encouraging them to get into the tech industry.

The Hidden Genius Project

First there was the increasingly popular Black Girls Code, a group focused on motivating girls to enter STEM fields, now there’s a new mentor program for boys. It’s called The Hidden Genius Project (THGP). Like Black Girls Code, THGP’s aim is to increase the diversity in the technology field.

While it seems like a spinoff of BGC, it’s not. According to its founder Jason Young, “We are completely separate from Black Girls Code. That said, we have the utmost respect for that organization and the work that they are doing.”

Starting this Monday, Jun 25, THGP will launch its first summer program for young Black men in Oakland, CA ranging in age from 15 – 19. The aim of the program is to give the students the skills to make it in today’s global and technocentric economy.

Jason Young, on the left, interviewing a THGP candidate

THGP is making contact with these men at a critical age when they need the guidance and encouragement the most. There’s little support for Black men in urban communities to hit the books and become the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs vs. becoming the next Kobe Bryant or Kanye West.

Even though we’re living in the Age of the Geek, the coolness of the geek hasn’t reached the urban culture yet. A Black kid hitting the books or burying himself in code won’t win much street cred in the hood.

This is where a group like the Hidden Genius Project comes to the rescue by providing support and mentorship for young Black men who show either an aptitude or an interest in computers or technology.

THGP is the brainchild of technology entrepreneur Jason Young, the founder of Mindblown Labs, a technology startup that makes mobile games that teach teens about personal finance and other in-demand skills.

Young says that when his company recently moved to Oakland, “I instantly felt a connection to the community and wanted to do my part to give back. One of the things that I saw was that many young Black males seemed to be disconnected from the opportunities being created in the tech industry. Since my startup is all about giving people the skills they need to be successful in a global workforce, I figured why not teach these students about software development. I spoke with Kurt Collins, Kilimanjaro Robbs, Isaak and Rassamee Hayes, Ty Moore, Michael McDaniels, Jeff T. Nelson, and Hidden Genius was born.”

The Hidden Genius Project focuses on providing its participants with a foundation they can use and build on to pursue a career path in Software Engineering, User Experience Design and technology entrepreneurship.

During the 9 week summer program students will get to design and build their own mobile applications and acquire skills needed to be a good software developer such as problem solving and creative thinking. In addition, participants will learn valuable intangible skills such as how to work as a team and how to present their project ideas to their peers.

Lastly, and perhaps most important, each student will receive one-on-one mentoring from Black professionals in the technology industry.

THGP doesn’t plan on being just a summer computer camp, Young says, “We would like to extend our program beyond the summer into the school year for the current students in addition to adding another class the following summer.”

Hopefully, like Black Girls Code, the Hidden Genius Project will become less hidden and grow in popularity.

Also, while the So Cal area does have programs like Level the Playing Field’s Smash Academy at UCLA and USC, with the growth of Silicon Beach, having a branch of the Hidden Genius Project in the area would be a welcome addition.

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