Ndene Diallo, OAK5 Hidden Genius Alum, had a bounce-back year thanks to the unyielding support and tough love of The Hidden Genius Project. Due to his determination and grit, Ndene overcame his setbacks which propelled him to graduate from high school and complete his final tech project for our Intensive Immersion Program. As Ndene begins his freshman year at Diablo Valley College as a Computer Science major this Fall, he knows that he can accomplish anything that he puts his mind to.
Congratulations on graduating from high school! What was it like achieving this milestone during a pandemic?
Thank you. For me, graduating during a pandemic wasn’t ideal as I missed out on the experience of celebrating my senior year with my friends. However, in my case, it actually helped stay focused and finish the year strong in order to graduate. I say that because my path to graduating from high school was a journey in itself because I fell short of graduating last year for various reasons.
I knew I disappointed my family and friends for not graduating last June, but Sean Valentine [Director of Strategic Initiatives] and The Hidden Genius Project were in my corner encouraging me to take [the 2019-2020 school year] seriously. It wasn’t easy, but I came to the realization that I needed to make a change in my life and take things seriously, and that’s what I did. I showed up for all of my classes, turned in my assignments, and just took care of business.
When my teacher announced in May that I was going to graduate this year I was overcome with joy after working so hard to get to this point. I remember getting this wave of relief like finally, this is what it feels like to graduate. Now I’m like alright, college is next.
How have you been with all the recent events impacting the Black community?
I have participated in the protests and marches towards the end of May and it felt good to be a part of such a powerful movement that has been building up for generations. I have been keeping away from social media and the news because the things people are saying are completely opposite of what’s really going on. There’s so much trauma involved with being exposed to these crimes where someone who looks like me is getting killed by the police. We’ve been fighting for over 400 years, when will it be enough?
What was your experience in the program like?
The Intensive Immersion Program taught me so many valuable skills and lessons that I will use for the rest of my life. I enjoyed how my mentors constantly pushed and challenged me to do my best and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Even if you try to distance yourself they will always reach out. The Hidden Genius Project is really just one big family.
Everyone at the organization makes every effort to learn about their students and get to know you on a deeper level. In the beginning, I struggled with opening up and letting them into my life as not many people really want to get to know me as they did. It was quite overwhelming, but I eventually saw the significance of opening up because they were interested in my overall well-being. I appreciate the continuous effort and love they were pouring into me, even when I wasn’t giving it back, and that’s when I knew I had to change for the better.
The bonding aspect from the program was strong all the way around from the mentors to the brothers in my cohort. Everyone treated everyone like family. We ate lunch together, learned how to code together, and supported one another despite any differences or disagreements we had. The program really forces you to be a single unit, a single brotherhood, a single family. It’s great to be a part of The Hidden Genius Project as they are there with you, supporting you every step of the way.
Describe the app designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
You may be wondering why it took me so long to finish it, and to be honest, I just wasn’t focused at the time and kept making mistakes and letting peer pressure get the best of me.
Right before summer programming started virtually, Hodari Toure [Director of Curriculum and Instruction] reached out to me saying that he would love to have my support teaching the newer cohorts as a Youth Educator, but he told me I had to finish my app project in order to qualify. So, in two weeks, I learned how to use Flutter, an app developer platform, and I created Weather Share, which is an app that allows any user to check the climate of any location and share it via text message with friendly emojis. I ended submitting my app to Hodari and I felt relieved once he accepted my final project.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
You won’t find another organization like The Hidden Genius Project. This program is just too good for people like me and I honestly don’t know where I would be today if they weren’t a part of my life. The mentors can be hard on you at times but it’s only to help bring the best out of you as they see something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I’ve been in situations where they could’ve just dropped all communications with me cause I wasn’t putting my best foot forward, but they didn’t care how many times I strayed off. They didn’t leave me behind or stranded but instead believed in my potential and put all the energy they had into me.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
One of the most beneficial things I learned in The Hidden Genius Project would be the technological skills by far. Exposing us to major tech companies, showing us career opportunities in various sectors, and highlighting how technology would be used for years to come was exciting to me. I was already a tech-savvy person and this experience was just icing on the cake. Learning how to code, collaborating with my fellow brothers, and understanding what it takes to create something people would want to use was the best experience of my life.
I loved learning and honing all of the possibilities of technology that I started to freelance UI/UX design work using Envision Studios as I realized that I have a knack for designing things in Photoshop. I would surf the Internet and reach out to small businesses and pitch my services. So far, I’ve sold a few website designs and logos to small businesses and I even helped one of my Hidden Genius brothers from previous cohorts with his app design. I really pride myself on self-taught learning when it comes to technology and sharpening my skills in this field with every project I take on.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
I’d say that I really learned how to open up to people that I had never met before, especially if they had nothing but good intentions for me. In the beginning of the program I was more closed off, but after seeing how everyone at The Hidden Genius Project treats you like family made it easier for me to feel comfortable with them. Trust me, just like a family they will call you out if you start making bad choices and the same can be said for when you accomplish something. They will be the first to celebrate your wins. I’m glad that I’m lucky enough to still be a part of such an amazing community of Black leaders that will support me for years to come.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
Before joining The Hidden Genius Project I was wild and unpredictable. The current version of me knows how to be patient, resilient, and thoughtful. I have learned how to take my time with every project, assignment, or life situation that comes at me and think about how I’m going to approach them. I used to treat everything like a race and my mentality was that I had to be first just so I can get it done. After all that I’ve been through in high school, I learned to accept that my best work comes when I’m mindful of the task and pace myself to get it done.
In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project continued to support you since graduating from the program?
The Hidden Genius Project has stayed connected with me in every way imaginable, especially when they have opportunities that are a great fit for you. From job offers to college credit opportunities to teaching my fellow brothers as a Youth Educator, The Hidden Genius Project will never leave you alone even if you ask them.
I’m always receiving emails and notifications from them whether it’s to check in on me or providing me with projects to help support the work. Whenever I need help there are always there for me just like family and I truly appreciate that. I also enjoyed helping out my family by being a Youth Educator this summer and teaching the newer cohorts how to code. It was an interesting experience leading programming virtually to the new Geniuses. I tried various approaches to help support their learning as I really wanted them to grasp the material and understand what they are learning. At times it can be frustrating because you can’t physically be there with them, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything as we all had a great time.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
You may think it’s a race but sometimes last place is first and first place is last.