Elijah Flores, Los Angeles Cohort 1 Hidden Genius Alum, joined our Intensive Immersion Program virtually in 2020 as a member of our inaugural Los Angeles cohort at 15 years old. Throughout his experience in our program, Elijah was exposed to several opportunities that helped him find his voice, develop a positive mindset, and find a space to connect with peers who looked like him during one of the most challenging times in modern history. We sat down with Elijah to learn how The Hidden Genius Project encouraged him to be his best self and to network like never before to promote his growing business empire — Churro Man Can.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
My mom first heard about The Hidden Genius Project through a family friend and she told me about it on my way to school one day. My mom encouraged me to apply to the program as she thought it would be a great way for me to network with other like-minded individuals. It’s funny because once I got into the program I was shocked to find out that it was 15 months long during orientation as I thought it was just for one summer.
I have never heard of a program being that long but I ended it giving a chance which became one of the best decisions of my life.
How does it feel to be a part of the first expansion cohort in South Central Los Angeles?
It’s dope knowing that I’m one of the first people to be a part of the program in LA. I’m one of the original Geniuses in the LA1 cohort and it makes me feel special. To be honest, it’s pretty legendary knowing that we set the tone and now there are other cohorts following our path which is cool. What’s crazy is that we were online the entire time during the program and we still were able to connect and form a real brotherhood over the computer on Zoom.
What was your experience in the program like?
I really enjoyed all of my experiences in the program. Despite being online from summer 2020 until now, my time in the program was a fruitful experience in every aspect. One of the first things that come to my mind when I think about the pandemic is The Hidden Genius Project. Every day in the program during the summer I would learn so much and I know kids who didn’t do anything throughout the entire pandemic. The Hidden Genius Project gave me something positive to do rather than being in the house playing video games. I had something to do and was actually learning some vital skills about coding and life in general, especially about being a Black man in America.
There were several times in the program where we talked about everything going on in the Black community, including George Floyd and so many other injustices. We rarely talk about things like this in school and The Hidden Genius Project gave me and my peers a space to open up and share our feelings about everything we were seeing. We all could relate to each other and it was comforting.
One of my favorite moments in the program was having the opportunity to talk about my business venture — Churro Man Can — on Instagram Live with Kayla Mason (Los Angeles Site Director). This was one of the first moments I saw how valuable networking was as I got a few new followers who wanted to buy my churros which was pretty cool.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
I designed a language learning app that teaches people Garifuna, which is the language Garinagu people speak who reside in Dangriga, Belize. I named this app Seremien, which means ‘thank you’ in Garifuna because I’m thanking my ancestors for the language I’m able to speak. I was inspired to create this app because I wanted to give people the opportunity to learn this language.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project is different from other mentorship or training experiences I’ve been in because they encourage you to follow your dreams and passions. If you tell them you want to start a business they’ll sit you down and help you write a business plan and everything. The staff even helps you outside of the program too with just life. I truly feel it is a family as I can call any of the LA staff about anything I have going on and they always give me good advice. The Hidden Genius Project staff genuinely cares about the Geniuses and wants to see us all win. There is just genuine and real love inside and outside of the program.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
Overall I’d say problem solving is one of the biggest skills I learned in The Hidden Genius Project. Throughout my entire time in the program, we’re always problem solving no matter if it’s trying to find a solution to an issue in the community or figuring out how to write and debug programming languages.
For the first time in my life, I learned how to evaluate a problem facing our communities step-by-step and brainstorm ideas to solve these issues, even ways to test them. I thought problem solving was a hard thing to do and didn’t realize how easy and simple it was until The Hidden Genius Project showed me. Now I think I can change the world by following the same process and putting in the work.
Networking is another big skill I learned in the program. At The Hidden Genius Project, I saw how important the power of your voice and networking can be when it comes to reaching your goals. When I participated in a Juneteenth Panel with Kayla and La Create Space, I shared my experience of being a young Black entrepreneur with my Churro Man Can business. Tons of people came up to say how inspired they were to hear about my story and several folks came out to visit my stand when I was at Leimert Park’s Juneteenth Festival. Inglewood Today also featured my business in their paper after the panel and festival. I continue to network with people to this day to help promote and grow my business.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
I believe the most important thing I gained from this experience was developing a more positive mindset and gaining more confidence in who I am as a person. My mentors exposed me to so many different topics and books that helped me better understand myself and think more positively about life. Christopher Wilson (Innovation Educator) encouraged me to read ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel which really helped me not take things so personally and grow as an individual. Kayla also helped me learn how to be more present and reflect on life through meditation.
How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?
Before The Hidden Genius Project, I was timid and didn’t have confidence in who I am or what I had to say. Now I’m not nervous to voice my opinions and share my perspective. It took a lot for me to speak up and share my opinions and views when I first joined the program, but now I’m definitely more vocal. Plus I would have been really bored and not as well-rounded if I didn’t have The Hidden Genius Project during the pandemic.
I also would not appreciate computer science the way I do now for sure. During my first summer, I was amazed when I saw the code from the outgoing Geniuses who were making apps and I thought to myself I can’t do that. Then in my final summer, I did it and realized that it takes more than one person to be successful as I had tons of support from my peers and mentors.
In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project stayed connected/continued to support you since graduating from the program?
Since graduating from the program I have been offered the opportunity to become a Youth Educator. I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue supporting The Hidden Genius Project as an alum.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
Take advantage of the program because the opportunities are endless when you feed in. The connections you make from this program can take you a long way.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
Mistakes will only make you better.