Just the thought of giving up two summers had Brandon ‘Pierre’ Bazile (RICH2 Hidden Genius) shook when he first started our 15-month Intensive Immersion Program. However, it didn’t take long for him to start shaking things up after leveraging his leadership and technical skills. Brandon earned the “Best App” award at our 8th Annual End of Summer Celebration in 2019, and just 2 months after graduating from the program he went on to win the first Youth Pitch Competition at AfroTech–one of the largest multicultural tech conferences in the country. Now as a rising senior at St. Mary’s College High School, Brandon is primed to pursue his passion for technology and business as he plans on getting into UCLA.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
I first heard about The Hidden Genius Project from my friend Jeremy Samuel (OAK5 Hidden Genius Alum) who joined the Intensive Immersion Program before me. I remember thinking it sounded really cool and being excited about the idea that I would be getting paid to learn. A year later, my mom made me fill out the application, and it’s all history from there.
What was your experience in the program like?
I had a lot of fun with my brothers from RICH2 as I look back on my time in the Intensive Immersion Program. What I enjoyed most was the in-depth discussions about societal issues that we all faced as young Black men because I had never had a safe space in which I could have those conversations.
The business trips were surreal and I still remind myself to this day “Brandon, you’ve been to Google twice man,” which is something that most people can’t say. Of course, the experience and exposure to technology opportunities at such an early age is invaluable and easily one of the best things I got from The Hidden Genius Project.
And to be honest, coding didn’t always come easy to me and there were times when I felt like slacking off instead of working on my assignments. I give all credit to my mentors David (Richmond Site Coordinator and Innovation Educator) and Abraham (Innovation Educator) for encouraging me to follow through with all of my projects as it wasn’t easy. It was mind-blowing too because when I presented at our 8th Annual End of Summer Celebration last year talking about my journey, Brandon (Executive Director) surprised me with the Best App award in front of everyone in the Rotunda Building. People kept asking me ‘did I know anything about this award?’ and I told them I had no clue because I really didn’t, but I am proud of this accomplishment.
At this point, I can confidently say that with the skills I developed at The Hidden Genius Project, I know I could pitch any project and or idea to ‘Shark Tank’ or a group of investors and have them support me.
Describe the award-winning app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
My app, Meal Swap, is designed to be a community-building platform centered around food and holistic health. I wanted to make an app that tackled both the issues of poor nutrition and lack of neighborliness. The app works by facilitating “meal swapping”, which is the delegation of time between multiple families working together to create and execute a single meal plan.
For six years, my family ‘meal swapped’ with others as they found it difficult to prep and cook meals every night without resorting to fast food or unhealthy options. Therefore, my inspiration for Meal Swap helps families by identifying neighbors who are willing to prepare meals for others and receiving them back.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The three biggest differences when it comes to The Hidden Genius Project is the strong Black brotherhood, the strong Black mentors, and the 15-month journey. As a Black man who has only ever had at most two other Black boys in my grade, to suddenly having a group of Black males who look like me was eye-opening. Being taught and surrounded by excellent Black minds, inspired me to believe that I could always better myself, which was a feeling I had never felt before. After completing the program, The Hidden Genius Project offered me opportunities to further develop my skills through internships and youth educator workshops rather than just saying good-bye and how it was nice knowing you.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
The most practical skills I picked up from my time in the program was my ability to ‘go fish’ and the understanding of how to think critically. ‘Go fish’ is a phrase that encourages Geniuses to advocate for themselves to solve their own problems rather than sitting with their hand up waiting for an answer. I’ve found that 80% of the questions I have can be answered with the Internet and other learning resources. Critical thinking is another critical component of the “go fish” mindset because most people will run into a problem and give up after the first try. However, having the ‘go fish’ mindset really pushes you to ask and search for the right questions which ultimately gets you to the answer you’re looking for. This applies to coding and life in general.
Overall, The Hidden Genius Project taught me that I will experience shortfalls in life but that I can learn how to work past those obstacles and overcome them.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
Aside from my coding skills, I think the most important thing I gained from the program was my leadership abilities. It’s pretty cool because The Hidden Genius Project doesn’t put an age on leadership at all and I believe there’s a stigma with becoming or being a leader, where young people feel like they can’t associate with that quality because of their age. However, the organization really pushes you from day one to become a leader no matter how old you are in order to support my peers, my family, and my community.
As a 16-year-old Youth Educator, I’m able to flex all of my leadership skills and support The Hidden Genius Project with anything they’re working on, especially with mentoring the newer generation of Hidden Geniuses. I’m always conscious of doing the right thing and being a role model and motivator to my brothers.
The concept of leadership and brotherhood is at the center of The Hidden Genius Project’s curriculum, and I understand now that making money or cool apps means nothing if we aren’t supporting our communities along the way.
We heard you participated in the first-ever Youth Pitch Competition at Afrotech 2019. What was that moment like?
To put it simply, the opportunity was very surreal. I remember when Abraham (Innovation Educator) and Hodari (Director of Curriculum and Instruction) invited me to present at the Youth Pitch Competition. At first, I thought AfroTech was going to be some small event, but I realized that it was a big deal after hearing that Charlamagne tha God was going to be there.
Also witnessing my other brothers, Hesten Parrish (OAK7 Hidden Genius) and Jayden Cummings (RICH2 Hidden Genius Alum) pitch their app ideas and projects was really inspiring, but it got me pretty nervous at the same time because they both did an incredible job. I pitched last at the competition and had a million things running through my mind before stepping on the stage, but once I was up there I just let my thoughts run free.
Ultimately I went into the competition putting my best foot forward and I was prepared to support the winner because everyone did a great job, but I was surprised when the judges selected my app idea for ‘Meal Swap’ as the best pitch. I was completely blown away as everyone started clapping for me and I was filled with emotions after feeling the love from everybody. I cherish that moment as I look at that day as a major milestone in my life.
In retrospect, being a part of the first Youth Pitch Competition at Afrotech is crazy. I’m appreciative of The Hidden Genius Project and AfroTech for giving me this opportunity to share my app idea.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
Before pitching at AfroTech, David put me on to a pilot program for young people at the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond called ‘Side Hustle.’ David knew I loved giving elevator pitches and creating pitch decks so he thought I’d be the perfect fit for this opportunity to coach a couple of youth in these areas. It was a fun opportunity to help the kids in this program think through their business ideas and design their pitch decks. As I reflect on that program I truly believe that mentoring those young people supported me in my pitch at AfroTech as I literally had to practice what I preach.
Also, my recent experience as a Youth Educator has been a lot of fun as I’ve supported instruction virtually to all of the new Hidden Geniuses. I can relate to the new students because we’re pretty close in age and I was in their shoes not too long ago. Plus, when teaching the younger generation I really don’t feel like it’s work as I enjoy helping them. Over the last 7 weeks, I was teaching a mix of leadership, computer science, life skills, and entrepreneurship sessions online for programming to anywhere between half a dozen to a full cohort of Geniuses. I appreciate Kyron Loggins (OAK4 Hidden Genius Alum) and Cameron Leonard (RICH1 Hidden Genius Alum) for being great role models for me as older Youth Educators as their guidance really made it easy for me to step in and support them.
How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?
Going into my senior year at St. Mary’s College High School, I know I would have no clue on what I’d be majoring in. I would be much less confident in my ability to lead a successful life, and I would have little to no awareness of the power that a unified Black community has. My summers most likely would have been wasted playing games and being unproductive, and I can’t imagine what I would have put on my college resume to make me stand out.
When I was halfway through the program, I had a family meeting with Jamal (The Hidden Genius Project Care Champion) to check in on my progress and my mom mentioned how much I matured and grew mentally from my time being with The Hidden Genius Project. She was proud of my growth and how I’m more conscious of my environment, especially as a Black man, and I completely agree. Overall, my path in life is a lot more clear now as I know that I want to major in computer science and business at my dream school of University of California Los Angeles in Fall 2021. next year.
We know you’ve been supporting our new cohort of LA1, RICH4, and OAK8 Hidden Geniuses this summer for the last 7 weeks. What words of encouragement do you have for them as they continue on in the program for the next 12 months?
Think BIG. Don’t even worry about the assignments you’re given; those are for your growth and understanding only, they do not determine your value. Focus your attention on long term projects, and ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF. Programming for 15 months might seem like a long time but it flies by, so make sure you graduate with something that you can show off. That’s all from me.