Even in an all-virtual program, Jahrai Haile (Richmond Cohort 4 Hidden Genius Alum) felt the love, brotherhood, and support of The Hidden Genius Project, sharing how “it’s an unreal opportunity for Black male youth.” Not only did Jahrai strengthen his coding skills and belief in oneself during our 15-month Intensive Immersion Program, he also discovered how entrepreneurship was an attainable career goal for him. Earlier this month, Jahrai was named a finalist for the highly-esteemed Posse Foundation four-year merit scholarship, where he’ll be majoring in Business and minoring in sustainability and real estate at Boston University this fall.
How have you been?
I’ve been great, but also super busy with school and scholarship applications. I am trying my best to keep the grind up and do well in all of my classes at school, while juggling soccer, volleyball, and Jazz band as a drummer. These activities do take up a big part of my schedule, but I enjoy them. Also, both of my sisters attend school with me this year — 11th and 9th grade — which is pretty fun.
What does it feel like to be a Posse Foundation scholarship finalist?
When Posse told me the news, my initial feeling was a huge shock, but once it settled in I was excited and honored. I also felt rewarded for all of my hard work since this is a merit-based scholarship, and for someone to acknowledge my efforts in such a significant way is pretty awesome.
Receiving this award as a first-generation Eritrean-American to immigrant parents means a lot as I’m relieved that my tuition will be covered for my undergraduate studies. I am super excited to explore and study at a high-caliber school such as Boston University this Fall. It was one of my top choice schools. This opportunity will allow me to bring my goal to reality of building generational wealth for my family, which is why I chose the business and entrepreneurship path at Questrom School of Business.
How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?
I heard about The Hidden Genius Project from my mom and she said it would be a great opportunity for me. I watched the videos on their website to learn more about their program and what they had to offer. I was [entering my] junior year in high school as well, so it made sense for me to apply before it was too late.
What was your experience in the program like?
I really enjoyed the program and the types of conversations we had about leadership and life in general, especially with like-minded people who all also happened to be Black. This program gave me an opportunity to be in a space with people who look like me on a daily basis and share this experience together. It’s hard to find programs like this for me.
I did the entire program online and being able to receive a [new laptop] was super helpful because I had an outdated laptop. It was perfect timing for me because I needed a laptop for school in order to do all of the online homework, including any assignments I had for The Hidden Genius Project. Truthfully, it made my life easier throughout the pandemic having a new laptop that just worked.
Attending virtual office hours with my peers, mentors, and Youth Educators was fun as we got to know one another on a deeper level. Also, The Hidden Genius Project allowed me to be in a space where entrepreneurship was a concept we deeply explored through assignments and conversations, and through that experience, I was able to gain a new perspective about what it means to be an entrepreneur. This program also showed me how I could be an entrepreneur while supporting my community.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
For my final summer in the program, I decided to participate in the Business Track (one of several exit/cumulative pathways a Hidden Genius selects to complete their final project). Pipeline for Good was my business project, which is a platform that connects low-income high school students with resources, programs, and other opportunities that can help them succeed. Before The Hidden Genius Project, I was lucky enough to have a resourceful mom that help me find programs that were free or low-cost, and I want to make sure more students have a chance at those same opportunities. This platform also included a business plan, which I’m still working on to improve to make it better.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project is a hands-on, all Black male led program, which was really impactful for me. They are very specific in terms of what the goal is, and The Hidden Genius Project just does it. This is the only program I’ve been in where they reward you for just showing up. In a heartbeat, I would have signed up for The Hidden Genius Project even if I wasn’t getting paid to be a part of the program. To be honest, I didn’t even know we received a stipend until orientation. It’s an unreal opportunity for Black male youth, it’s really great.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
The top skills I’ve taken away from The Hidden Genius Project is my entrepreneurial mindset and how to code.
For entrepreneurship, the program really sparked my interest into becoming an entrepreneur, which motivated me to major in business at Boston University. They really changed my mindset about entrepreneurship, as I thought of it only like Shark Tank, where it was a bunch of execs and super-rich people investing. In the program, I had a better understanding of how entrepreneurship is all about taking an initiative and going out of my way to create monetary return and impact as well.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
I think the most important thing I gained from The Hidden Genius Project was the business aspect.
This program gave me the opportunity to explore my passion for entrepreneurship with like-minded individuals. I felt really inspired because I had mentors that looked like me and that were successful in the space of business and technology creation. This program proved to me the amount of opportunity available within this program. You can really do so much with business, and take it wherever you want in life.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
Before The Hidden Genius Project, I was less confident in my ability to see what success would look like in the entrepreneurial world for me. Throughout high school, I recognized how much more opportunity and resources my peers were accustomed to. Being one of the few Black males in the school, there was no one relatable that I could look up to as a mentor.
Being a part of The Hidden Genius Project increased my confidence in my ability to succeed in life as an entrepreneur and see myself in the business world. I learned how there is so much out there for all of us. They motivated me and showed me what’s possible if I seek out opportunities and apply myself. I also expanded my passion for business and entrepreneurship from the program, which would not have been as defined if I didn’t participate in the program.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
I have been in constant contact with Arnold Lopez [Alumni Coordinator] and have made great use of their college counseling program. Arnold encouraged me to find additional professional development opportunities outside of The Hidden Genius Project to improve my college applications. My mom shared with me a virtual real estate program at Harvard University. I wasn’t sure about it, but Arnold encouraged me to do the program.
I ended up getting into the program and received a partial scholarship to attend. Over the course of four weeks, I had a chance to connect and network with other students who were also interested in real estate development. I learned the basics of how real estate development works, how it can have a positive impact on people, and how profitable the industry is. I worked with Arnold in order to be able to juggle the Harvard program schedule and all of my obligations to The Hidden Genius Project.
Also, Arnold was also a huge reason I applied for the Posse Foundation scholarship as he nominated me for it. We constantly checked in for about 5-6 months coaching me for the interviews and giving me that encouragement.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
Take it seriously, and understand the opportunity that is being given to you.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
Be engaged, ask lots of questions, and show up to office hours.