For two years, Brendan Kariithi (Richmond Cohort 5 Alum) put off applying to The Hidden Genius Project despite his friend’s recommendation. “I wasn’t interested in coding or engineering,” said Brendan. After struggling in an engineering competition, he decided he wanted to know how to code and work with Arduino microprocessors. Since joining our Intensive Immersion Program, Brendan has designed and 3D-printed his own bluetooth speaker, advocated for his high school to help build a makerspace, and found strength in his brotherhood of Geniuses.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
I heard about The Hidden Genius Project from my family friends, Ari (RICH2 Hidden Genius Alum) and Micah Alleyne (RICH3 Hidden Genius Alum). They were constantly telling me about how The Hidden Genius Project would pay me to work on projects and give you a free computer too, which got me really interested. After struggling in an engineering competition I finally applied. It took me two years to do it but I haven’t regretted it since.
What was your experience in the program like?
The camaraderie and brotherhood within The Hidden Genius Project is like nothing I ever experienced before. It meant a lot to me when I could relate to my brothers about issues in our communities and how we could formulate solutions to them. One thing I love about The Hidden Genius Project is that we’re a family. All the staff members and educators are encouraging and very supportive. They keep you in check, making sure you have everything you need to succeed as a Black man in this country.
At times, it was really hard managing my time between school, extracurriculars, and The Hidden Genius Project. Nevertheless, I was committed to the mission and vision of this program. I put in extra hours during the weekend and worked late nights to finish my final project. I learned a lot about engineering and myself during my time as a Genius. Now as an alum and Youth Educator, I hope to continue learning and teaching others about technology, entrepreneurship, and leadership.
Overall, it has been an amazing and empowering experience being a part of The Hidden Genius Project.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Intensive Immersion Program.
During my second summer, the most fun one, I designed a Bluetooth Two Way Speaker, incorporating my love for music and technology. I studied and researched a lot of information about audio fidelity– the process of replicating an audio source to utmost perfection through loudspeakers or any other audio reproduction equipment– allowing me to understand the anatomy of a Two-Way Speaker. Building off of this knowledge, I used Autodesk Fusion360 to design the speaker enclosure, which had threaded holes and counterbores for the speaker drivers to fit in seamlessly. This project meant a lot to me. I plan to continue building upon this project and soak up as much knowledge as I can about audio fidelity and electrical engineering.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project differs from other mentorship programs that I am involved in because it’s a brotherhood. We uplift each other and always keep an Afrocentric mindset at the forefront of everything we do. You don’t simply participate in the program, you are forever ingrained into the legacy of The Hidden Genius Project. No other program I have been a part of has given me the opportunity to obtain internships at companies like Autodesk or Google, or to be featured in a video with McLaren and Smartsheet. This truly is a special program.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
In the program, I took the mission of The Hidden Genius Project to heart. Understanding its power, I was able to find an opportunity to improve my school and community. I go to Middle College High School in San Pablo, CA and I wanted to give my classmates the opportunity to explore their interests and expand their knowledge. Using the leadership, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills I learned with The Hidden Genius Project, I pitched the idea of creating a makerspace to my principal. She agreed and we immediately got to work. We purchased a computer with powerful processing power, a 3D printer, and speakers. These were the essentials for the space. This is an ongoing project as we hope to open the space this spring.
I also learned a multitude of skills, including web development, electrical engineering, and C++ programming. In the end, I created a Bluetooth Two-Way Speaker, along with a Bluetooth connection app I am currently working on. My project was featured in this Sponsor X video with Smartsheet and McLaren. [Watch the video HERE.]
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
The important thing I gained from The Hidden Genius Project was that I don’t need a teacher to educate myself. I don’t have to wait for anyone to be taught how to code or how to solder a wire. I can do the research myself. Guidance is always preferred, but I can take initiative as well. The relationships that I have formed within the program have been really important to me. Having mentors and a strong network and community around you only leads to success.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
I now appreciate my African heritage as a Black and Kenyan-American man. I constantly share with my brothers the importance of investing in Black communities in America and abroad. I believe we are all connected. Reconnecting with Africa in some way will allow us to truly empower our communities. The trauma may have been different, but one thing remains constant: Black people all over the world have been oppressed by means of colonization, slavery, and neocolonialism in some way, shape, or form. So I have changed because I now host an Afrocentric mindset and have become proud of who I am. I have become a leader and someone who doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
Plus, I wouldn’t have been as eager to learn now if I hadn’t participated in the program. In fact, I never would have thought of making a speaker, creating Kariithi Tech, or even developing a makerspace for my school.
In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project continued to support you since graduating from the program?
Kacie, Denzel, Jabari, David, Brandon, and so many other staff members have been so supportive, teaching me how to exhibit professionalism and simply, continue to better myself. This past semester The Hidden Genius Project gave me the unique opportunity to be filmed for a video in partnership with the McLaren F1 Team and Smartsheet Sponsor X initiative. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. It changed my life.
I am also now a Youth Educator for The Hidden Genius Project and I occasionally go to the Oakland HQ to visit and get some work done.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
Make sure to lighten your load so that you can focus on The Hidden Genius Project. Give your full attention to the program because… “it’s the opportunity to change how the world sees Black people.”
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
Take this program seriously, don’t take it for granted. There are some young kids out there who really do need this program, but don’t have access to it. This is supposed to be encouraging, but our brothers and sisters are actually dying out there and we need to do something about it. Your time and effort can help turn the tide. Buy into the mission and vision of The Hidden Genius Project and you’ll be all set.