Before joining our Intensive Immersion Program, Avin Keith (RICH2 Hidden Genius Alum) reflects: “I was only focused on the now and present part of my life, instead of the future.” Since graduating, Avin says he now looks ahead to “a long-term vision for myself as I am leveraging all the skills I’ve learned in the program.” Combining his new skill sets with his perspective as a Black male, and The Hidden Genius Project’s broader mission to transform lives and communities, Avin designed an app that helps people of color access their personal information during traffic stops. “I wanted to eliminate the fear cops have when drivers ‘reach’ for their information by creating an app for it.”
What was your experience in the program like?
My experience in The Hidden Genius Project was amazing as I enjoyed being surrounded by people who looked like me and wanted to succeed in life. I’ve attended private school my whole life and I was always one of the few Black students in the whole school, which is a lonely feeling. So when I got into the program it was a dramatic change for me, but in a good way, because I finally had this feeling that I belong.
The Intensive Immersion Program wasn’t your average classroom experience either, as I could connect with the staff at The Hidden Genius Project on a deeper level. I never had that type of relationship with any of my educators before. I was actually comfortable enough to talk to them about anything going on in my life.
My favorite part of the program was the leadership sessions with David Malone, Jr. [Senior Innovation Educator & Richmond Site Coordinator] and Abraham Keleta [Innovation Educator]. This is where our cohort would have the opportunity to discuss real-world issues and share how they impacted us as Black men. Sometimes these conversations would get very heated and real because we were all passionate about how these issues could have a positive or negative effect on us and our communities. Having these opportunities to share our perspectives is what really brought us close together as a brotherhood. We all could relate to one another because we realized how we all shared similar experiences despite coming from different backgrounds and that was so powerful to me.
Plus, everyone in the program was a mentor to one another and vice versa. One moment I could be learning about computer science languages from one of my brothers and then five minutes later I’m teaching someone else about entrepreneurship. We were all just learning from each other. I still continue to connect and learn from my brothers in my cohort, especially Jayden Cummings and Brandon Bazile, as they are such an inspiration for what they achieved last year.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
Rigi was the app project I developed during my second summer in the program. The intention behind this app was to help people of color access their personal information such as their ID, insurance, and registration directly from their phone during a traffic stop, instead of reaching for the glove compartment or anywhere else. Throughout the history of America, Black people have been harassed by the police when they get pulled over and I wanted to eliminate the fear cops have when drivers ‘reach’ for their information by creating an app for it.
One of the biggest challenges for me when creating this app was learning how to use the Xcode program and connecting my user database to it. There was also a huge process to design and code the user interface with the app transitions, buttons, and user profile information features. Sometimes my code had errors that would throw off the flow of my app, so I really had to be patient in order for me to fix the code to make the app work. Overall, I am really proud of my work with creating an app from start to finish.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project is not just a program, but one big loving family of Black role models and young men. The peers in the cohort and the whole organization are my brothers for life. Mentors like David, Abraham, and [OAK2 Hidden Genius Alum] Zebreon respected me and my brothers to the fullest. They never shot down my ideas and they always gave me an opportunity to vocalize my perspective in any conversation. Also, The Hidden Genius Project literally pays you to learn and I don’t know of any other programs that do.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
The most impactful skills that I took away from The Hidden Genius Project is learning how to advocate for myself, networking with others, and the basics of computer science. These skills have really helped me during my first semester at the University of California Santa Cruz.
Because of my knowledge of coding in the program, I have been able to pass my computer science courses with ease this semester. We’ve had simple tech assignments like designing a video game and a website, which are similar to the projects we created in The Hidden Genius Project. Also, if I ever got stuck on a problem in an assignment, I would just reach out to my brothers for support which was always nice. I know this semester would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have that experience.
Learning how to advocate for myself and network with others has helped me get through this year as I graduated high school virtually in the spring of 2020, and will begin my second quarter at UCSC in 2021. With all of the changes during the pandemic, I started to become more vocal about how these changes were impacting us as students with my educators and professors, especially when it came to our grades. I wanted to make sure they were grading us fairly and taking the different situations we’re all facing into account. I’ve also relied on networking virtually to make connections with people in my college courses so we can study together.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
The most important thing I gained from the program is the brotherhood and support of The Hidden Genius Project. The fact that I can call any of my brothers or mentors and ask them questions about life or their experience on coding projects is so clutch and helpful. It’s just great to have a support network that I can relate to and understands me.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
Before the program, I was only focused on the now and present part of my life, instead of the future. I didn’t have a set plan for what I wanted to study in college, especially when I was entering my junior year in high school. After getting accepted into the program, my interest and passion for computer science grew with every project that was assigned to us. Now I see a long term vision for myself as I am leveraging all the skills I’ve learned in the program to network for opportunities and internships in the future.
In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project continued to support you since graduating from the program?
I still keep in touch with multiple staff members and my cohort at The Hidden Genius Project. Right after graduating from the program, they sent me a whole packet of scholarship applications for college. This packet ultimately led to me to win a $40K college scholarship which was amazing. To this day, they still continue to send me financial and internship opportunities.
The staff also continues to offer me opportunities to support the program as a Youth Educator. I’ve helped out at events teaching computer science at Brothers Code last year and mentoring the younger Geniuses who are coming up in the program. Overall, it’s been great to have their support beyond the program.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
I would tell future Geniuses to stay focused and have fun. Try to take full advantage of all the opportunities you are offered from the program. Lastly, I highly recommended all of them to network with their brothers, peers, and staff of The Hidden Genius Project.