Jayden Cummings (RICH2) hit the ground running from the moment he joined The Hidden Genius Project in the summer of 2018. Not only did he complete his website in record time, he is also the fastest Genius to-date to create an app — a full three weeks before the deadline. We sat down with Jayden to discuss his thoughts on his journey from Hidden Genius to Genius Revealed. Here is his story in his words:
What was your experience in the program like?
The program was eye-opening, definitely life-changing and fun for me. All of the experiences in the program, such as business trips during the summer, helped expose me to new opportunities and encouraged me to make connections. When it came to learning about leadership, the instructors provided us with the tools and skills to solve problems in our communities. They encouraged me to speak up for myself and my brothers. Throughout the lessons and assignments, the mentors allowed me to grow at my own pace. Plus, it was great to come to a program where we had breakfast and lunch provided every day during the summer.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program?
Creating iBlinkco, a social media management platform with the goal of helping small businesses grow their presence on social media, was driven by my growing interest in software development and website creation.
In the beginning, I found it challenging when trying to develop my website application platform because I was fairly new to coding. I kept running into roadblocks. There were times when I was stuck on a coding problem for a long time and I had to give myself a mental break. But during my break, the solution would hit me like an adrenaline rush, to the point where I need to run back to my computer to solve the problem. The momentum of this rush pushed me to keep developing new features and functions for iBlinkco. My proudest moment during this process happened when iBlinkco went live online. The launch made me feel successful and special because I was able to create and publish a product all on my own.
What specific skills that you have learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
The Hidden Genius Project taught me the value of how to work collaboratively in a team, especially with my brothers in the program. It’s important to have people around you that want to see you succeed and grow. The leadership sessions of the program gave me the confidence to improve my public speaking skills, pitching my app idea, and overall presentation skills. With the techniques that I’ve learned, I’ve enhanced my communication skills by speaking slowly, and not repetitively saying filler words like ‘uhh’ and ‘like’.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different than other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
This program provides a real authentic brotherhood and support system that I can turn to during times of hardship and joy. Other programs that work with black male youth don’t really have instructors that are Black men. At The Hidden Genius Project, all of the staff are Black men, which makes it a more powerful learning experience. It’s a perfect balance of how teaching should be done — where instructors won’t dismiss students because of small misbehaviors, but provides a safe space for my brothers and I to express ourselves.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
One of the most important things I’ve gained is the brotherhood at The Hidden Genius Project. The fact that there are Black male role models all around the organization that I can look up to, is truly reassuring. David Malone Jr., Senior Innovation Educator and Richmond Site Coordinator, is a big brother to me as we talk about situations that I’m dealing with at school and family-related matters. My relationship with David is very valuable and I know it’s a connection that I couldn’t get anywhere else except for at The Hidden Genius Project. Abraham Keleta, Innovation Educator and Zebreon Wallace, OAK2 Hidden Genius Alum Youth Educator have also supported me by attending my basketball games. Overall, it means a lot to me to have them by side as they continually push and motivate me.
How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?
To be honest, I’d feel empty on the inside, but I would still be on track in pursuing my goal to attend college. Overall, I feel that I’d definitely be less knowledgeable and motivated because I wouldn’t have any Black male role models to look up to.
Obviously, I wouldn’t have the computer science skills or understanding how to be a team player. I know right now that I’d be spending my time on less productive things like chasing hoop dreams or playing video games.
How was your experience attending AfroTech last month in Oakland?
Afrotech was a huge conference that was really empowering. It was amazing to see so many Black entrepreneurs and technologists that were doing incredible things in the industry, especially for people of color. I had the opportunity to meet some players from the Oakland Raiders and made some valuable connections in the tech field with people who looked just like me. The food was pretty good too as I had chicken and waffles that were delicious.
We heard you participated in the first-ever Youth Pitch Competition. What was that moment like?
Yes, I pitched my company and app idea, IBlinkco at the competition. The competition was an eye-opening experience because all of the students had really great ideas and presentations.
I was energetic and excited, but slightly nervous because I was being judged by some well-established entrepreneurs and business professionals. The nervousness comes from how much work I put into developing my app and I felt as if someone were to harshly criticize my app it would bring me down a little bit. But despite that, I’m proud of the company that I created, designed, marketed, and pitched.
One key takeaway I’ve come to realize is that I need to work smarter by sharing my presentation as a story. It would have highlighted the demand for the platform that I’ve created, including the success stories, and who I am as a person.
That afternoon, I also participated in the Design Thinking Panel with my fellow Hidden Genius Alumni Youth Educators, James Green and Kyron Loggins. I think it was a great opportunity for all of us to share our perspective on the concept of design thinking at AfroTech.
I felt like the audience was really engaged and respectful about what we were sharing. Design thinking is important because we face several problems in our communities and learning how to address these issues with time, compassion, and technology can really create change.
Also, one of the biggest things for me was being recognized for the Congressional App Challenge by Barbara Lee’s district, CA 13 at AfroTech.
What was it like receiving that award, and what are your thoughts as you prepare to go to DC?
I was completely shocked and surprised to see this award being presented to me after being on a panel with my peers at AfroTech. I even asked myself, “is this real”? Everyone from The Hidden Genius Project was there when I received the award and it really made me happy and boosted my confidence. That moment was really humbling for me, and I am appreciative of everyone for helping me get to this point. My mom was very proud of me that I’m doing something positive for myself and my community.
Overall, I’m excited about this opportunity to show what a Black teenager from the Bay Area can really do. I want to take the Capitol by storm and demonstrate what I’ve been working on with The Hidden Genius Project over the last two years. [As the District 13 representative for of the Congressional App Challenge, Jayden will head to DC in the spring to attend the #HouseofCode Capitol Hill reception in Spring 2020.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
I’m still in contact with everyone at The Hidden Genius Project. I’ve been active with the events the organization has supported as a Hidden Genius Alum Youth Educator. Being a Youth Educator has really provided me with the opportunity to share my skills and knowledge with the people in my community.
What advice do you have for future Geniuses?
I want future Geniuses to understand the value of The Hidden Genius Project and to take advantage of it. Everything they are teaching you is relevant –from the brotherhood to the coding, it’s what you need to know. It’s also important to learn about your history as a Black man, especially in leadership.