For Nathan Ford II (OAK4 Hidden Genius Alum), commuting back and forth from San Francisco to East Oakland wasn’t exactly how he pictured spending the summer before his sophomore year of high school. But after the first few weeks, Nathan quickly learned the brotherhood and guidance of The Hidden Genius Project was invaluable. Now an 18-year-old freshman at Chico State University majoring in criminal justice, Nathan took a moment to chat with us about his growth as a leader and what it means to “fish.”
What was your experience in the program like?
The Hidden Genius Project was fun for me as I have hardly ever seen so many black men and black youth in the same program wanting to help each other win and do well. For the organization to create such a diverse group of black male youth from around the Bay Area really helped us connect and learn from one another. The bond between us was so thick that by the end of the third week of the program we were all a super tight group.
Besides providing us with meals, a laptop, and stipends, the program taught me how to be an effective leader. I’m literally in groups everyday at Chico and my experience in the program instilled in me what it takes to lead and manage those responsibilities; not to be overbearing, ensuring the group is motivated, and keeping everyone on task.
It was also crazy to see how much you could do with coding, as you could really build and create anything. The whole cohort was shocked at how technology is infused with everything, especially to the point where we could design our own video games. That portion of the computer science lessons really brought out everyone’s creative side and we all enjoyed it.
Describe the app designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
The second summer was great because we all learned how to write code to develop our own mobile apps that we were passionate about. At that time, I loved video games and the goal of my app, called ‘Electronic Guide’, was to help consumers find the best tech products based on your overall needs. The app would provide side-by-side comparisons of different technology items such as monitors, games, and controllers to help you make the best decision as a consumer. Overall, the benefit of ‘Electronic Guide’ was to help folks pick the best technology items to support their gaming, YouTube stardom aspirations, and everyday electronic needs.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
At The Hidden Genius Project you have the opportunity to connect with all of the staff on a deeper level. I remember one day my brothers asked a few staff about their lives in front of the whole cohort and they were not afraid to share their personal stories and experiences as black men.
Everyone in the cohort could relate to what the staff was sharing because we all came from similar backgrounds. Hearing about their challenges touched all of us, and it was motivating knowing how they bounced back from those situations. I know that personally I’m going to make mistakes in my life but it’s helpful to know that I can come back from any setback, just like them.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
Besides learning how to code, communicate, network and be a leader, I believe the biggest skill I took away from being a part of The Hidden Genius Project is having confidence in myself. When I spent time creating my app, I kept thinking to myself of how nobody would not want to download my app, but with the support of my mentors I learned how to change my thoughts. I understand how important it is to believe in myself, because if I don’t, then nobody else will.
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 I gained was making those deep connections with my brothers and mentors. If I’m going through something I know can make a phone call to any of them for support. I know there were people in my cohort who was unsure about their lives and ideas, like my brother James Green (OAK4 Hidden Genius Alum), but the staff really believed in him and now he’s doing big things. I just saw him in the New York Post and was super excited for him. Overall, The Hidden Genius Project really exposed me to other young black men who want to be successful in life and they really are passionate about your success.
How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?
It’s hard to imagine my life without The Hidden Genius Project. I know that I probably wouldn’t have the computer science skills I have now, including the mentors to help guide me in the right direction inside and outside of the classroom. It’s really great to have role models that look like me that actually care and show a willingness to support me. And just having the opportunity to experience new things, visit the biggest tech companies, and network with black business professionals was pretty inspiring and life changing.
At the core, the Intensive Immersion Program is structured to where nobody is holding your hand. Throughout the 15 months, we were always taught to work smart and learn how to problem solve. The staff continuously preached, “If I fish for you you could eat for one day, but I teach you how to fish you can eat forever.” I took this phrase to heart and have been fishing ever since, especially when I find myself stuck on an assignment in school or anything going on in my life in general.
Well when my grandmother first found out I got into the program she was super excited. It’s funny because she didn’t know what The Hidden Genius Project was about but she knew I needed something to keep me occupied. Once my grandmother learned that the organization was all black male led she wanted to do everything she could to help keep the organization going, even after I left.
She’s definitely a big fan of The Hidden Genius Project and loves all of the staff. With everything going on in the world, she knows the program provides opportunities and gives black males like me a chance for a better future. My grandma keeps telling me to keep in touch with them so you can help them when they get older.
Do you have any last words to share with future Hidden Geniuses?
Yeah, just trust the process and know that whoever you come in contact with at the organization has your best interest at heart. Lastly, make sure you believe in yourself, even if it seems like your idea is crazy, just go for it as you never know what could happen.