Gari’un Godfrey candidly admits how shy he was when he first joined our Richmond 2 Cohort, but proudly shares how “The Hidden Genius Project made me comfortable in my own skin,” which helped him become more socially confident. His newfound confidence opened doors for Gari’un, allowing him to teach a robotics workshop in Detroit and land a data analytics internship at one of the biggest law firms in the world. Now, 17-year-old Gari’un Godfrey is excited to embark on his next journey as an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science major, and SEED Scholars Program Honoree at UC Berkeley this fall.
How have you been?
I’m doing pretty good for myself as I’m maintaining straight A’s throughout my senior year. I’ve been participating in the National Honor Society program at my high school and I help plan school events and volunteer opportunities in the Bay Area like food drives and trash cleanups.
I also recently committed to UC Berkeley and I will be majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Overall, I’m really excited to graduate in June and start college. I’m happy because a lot of my friends are staying in the Bay Area for college which is great as we can still hang out once in a while.
Last August I landed a remote Data Analytics internship opportunity at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, one of the largest law firms in the world. My main job is to create data-focused dashboards for my supervisor. I like this job a lot because of its flexibility as it doesn’t interfere with my school schedule and it introduced me to a new career path.
What was your experience in the program like?
The Hidden Genius Project made me comfortable in my own skin. It was my first time being surrounded by that many Black people and they allowed me to be my true self, instead of putting on a fake persona. In the beginning, I was shy and kept to myself, but in the end, I became more outgoing and open. I also liked the brotherhood we formed in RICH2. We all came into the program uncertain about one another, but now we all have each other’s back. I also loved that we played basketball every day even though I’m not that good, and the educators would sometimes join us too. All of the students and educators just loved being there.
I enjoyed all of the free food the program provided because we had Kinders, Panda Express, Wingstop, and more. One of my best highlights is the business trips we went on in the summer with Sony, Google, CBS, and Salesforce being the most memorable for me. These business trips helped me become less shy around people I didn’t know and taught me how to network and use Linkedin. It also helped me see what a professional work environment looks like and how fun it could be.
One challenge that I faced was burnout from the program and school. After my first summer, I grew tired as we would have programming right after school which was challenging since it was my first year of high school. I would slack on both my school work and assignments I had for the program. I overcame this struggle by taking a break from hanging out with my friends and playing PlayStation, and I began focusing on myself and my work thanks to the support of my mom and Jamal [Care Champion]. In the end, I was able to get my grades up and catch up on all of my assignments for The Hidden Genius Project.
Learning about entrepreneurship by Akeem [Programs Director] was great as he introduced me to many business terms that I was unfamiliar with. I believe more Black people need to learn about entrepreneurship because I want to see more Black-owned businesses in my community.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
At 15 years old, I was able to develop my first app called Alert. Alert is an app that collects popular areas around the Bay Area and shows users deals, discounts, and promotions of shops and restaurants nearby. Users are also able to publish local events. While making the app, I learned new skills like GPS systems and log-in pages. I also learned how to put my app on a server which was pretty cool.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The biggest difference with The Hidden Genius Project is that it’s taught by African-American men, for African-American students. This gives me the feeling that I could talk about anything with the educators, as this is the only program I could find that teaches us about our ancient history and where we came from.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
I have also learned how to network, teach, and ask questions during my time in the program. I have made many connections on the business trips I attended in the summer. These connections combined with my willingness to ask questions have helped me learn how to network and gain valuable information and opportunities. Also, my time as a Genius and Youth educator has improved my teaching skills which allows me to connect with people who need help learning about coding, entrepreneurship, or leadership subjects.
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 that I gained was community and brotherhood. We learned a lot together and that brought us closer. It feels good to learn with a group of people that look like me and like some of the same things that I do. I have multiple friends and brothers that I can call if I need anything.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
The biggest difference is that now I am more mature and know how to act when I’m in a professional work environment. Before joining the program, I used to make jokes all the time no matter my surroundings, and I would sometimes get in trouble for it. I also know that I would be lost on what I would want to do in college if I hadn’t participated in the program. This includes access to their college advisers who really supported me during the entire application process. Ultimately, I believe that I would not be pursuing a career in technology or computer science if it wasn’t for The Hidden Genius Project.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
They allowed me to become a Youth Educator and give back to the program and community which made me feel good. I had the opportunity to teach in Detroit with the Pistons at a Tech Slam event where I taught youth about robotics. In the Immersion Program, I helped David [Senior Innovation Educator and Richmond Site Coordinator] ] teach an eight-week course about entrepreneurship to other Geniuses. We focused on what it takes to build a business and the end project was for everyone to create a mock business that showcased all of the aspects of their businesses.
They’ve also provided me with Paúl Perez, my college advisor and he’s helped me a lot with the college application process, especially with understanding how to write personal essays and financial aid advice.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
I would tell myself to be more confident going into the program. I remember when applying and during the interviews that I didn’t want to participate in the program as I felt that I would not have any fun.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
I would tell future Geniuses to not be afraid of not getting things on the first try. It takes time to be a great coder as not even the most experienced programmers get things working on the first go. Also, make sure to ask questions since it could help you connect with more people inside and outside of the program. This will be beneficial to you later in life.