Neranti Gary, OAK6 Hidden Genius Alum experienced first-hand the exciting opportunities The Hidden Genius Project’s Catalyst Programs provide. As a middle schooler in 2017, he attended our inaugural Google Tech Slam and has participated in our annual Brothers Code event since 2016. Now finishing up his junior year at Moreau Catholic High School, the nearly-17-year-old sat down with us to share more about the inspiration behind his winning Juneteenth apparel design, which is available for purchase in our newly-launched online store.
I first learned about The Hidden Genius Project at Brothers Code as a participant in 2016 when I was 13 years old. My mom knows I like computers and technology so she would always try to put me in different computer science classes and workshops.
I was also a member of the David E. Glover Education and Technology Center during the summer and The Hidden Genius Project would be in the same building doing programming. I knew some of the other students in the program too and I remember getting a chance to attend the Tech Slam event at Google for The Hidden Genius Project with David E. Glover Technology Center.
Tell me about the inspiration behind your limited release Juneteenth apparel design? How does it feel to be voted by your peers for best design?
I wanted to create a design that represented Juneteenth without explicitly saying it, so I challenged myself creatively on how I could do that. I researched different symbols like broken chains and other elements, and I really liked the Pan African flag colors. I then reflected on The Hidden Genius Project’s mission and what we stand for, and I came across the idea of using the map outline of Africa on the back, while adding the binary code for Juneteenth inside of it. I found a converter tool that could turn any words into binary code and I used it to spell out Juneteenth which is pretty cool. I also decided to change up the colors of The Hidden Genius Project logo to represent the Pan African flag too.
It really feels good to win the alumni design contest and it’s another step towards my interest in graphic design, which has grown during quarantine. It’s something that I definitely want to pursue as a career in the future, combining my passion for art, design, and technology. Plus, this opportunity really shows how The Hidden Genius Project continues to offer Geniuses opportunities even after they graduate from the program.
What does Juneteenth mean to you?
I did know what Juneteenth meant before the alumni design contest as it’s the true independence day for African Americans on June 19, 1865. It’s crazy because our ancestors were still enslaved 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared.
During my elementary and middle school days, I didn’t fully know that Juneteenth was such a special day for our people, as it is not taught in the regular school system. I am grateful to my parents for teaching me about the history and importance of this date. Now it’s really getting a lot more recognition and attention, but a few years ago it wasn’t as widely known.
What is the message you want to leave people who will wear your limited edition design?
My design highlights what The Hidden Genius Project is all about, an organization that supports Black male youth and keeps everyone connected to their African roots. In the program, you find out that the teaching is not all about computer science because we also learn about our identity as Black men and people.
The program was very enjoyable for me. I got exactly what I wanted out of The Hidden Genius Project, which was experience learning about entrepreneurship, leadership, and programming skills. The first few weeks in the summer was all about getting to know my brothers and learning everything the program has to offer.
We also went on some cool business trips to Google, CBSi, and Salesforce in San Francisco and we were always encouraged to network with employees at these various companies. I know that connections are extremely valuable, as it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I constantly tried to meet new people that could help in the future.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
I created a shopping app on Flutter where users can list their custom shoes and accessories into their own online store. This idea stemmed from my hobby of making customized shoes and I thought of making an app to host my store.
A huge feature I built into the store was a homepage section where I had a listing of shoes with various prices, and they could add them to their cart with their total price. It was challenging because I had to create separate files for every single page of code, and it was a language I had zero experience in. The most difficult part was creating a database and linking it to the actual app, but the coding process is pretty complex. I was struggling for weeks as I literally would start the day on problem solving this one issue and not make any progress at all. The next day I would do the same thing all over again, but I eventually figured it out which felt good. I actually received a bonus too for being one of the first Geniuses in my cohort to finish the app.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The Hidden Genius Project is different because of how the mentors support and interact with the Geniuses. The connection is much stronger because those teaching us look like us. The staff is filled with Black men and they treat us like family rather than regular students.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
The top skills I’ve taken away from the program is learning about computer science, especially when writing complex code and how to network. With all of the computer science projects and business trip opportunities, you really learn how to make connections.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
The most noticeable difference between the younger me from before starting the program and me now, is that I am much more mature. I started the program during the summer going into my freshman year and now I am now heading into my senior year. I know the program has helped me grow as a person, both physically and mentally.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
I started training and working as a Youth Educator as soon as I finished the program in 2019. This past summer I was able to teach the newer cohorts about basic coding concepts and I am excited to be doing it again this summer.
Besides that, the staff have continued to help me find potential internship opportunities. About a month ago, Sean Valentine [Director of Strategic Initiatives] presented me with a pretty cool design-thinking project to help a company create special emoji schemes with Base Ventures. I’m really enjoying this project as I have a huge interest in graphic design and I want to continue learning more about this field.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
I would tell myself that applying would be a good choice for my future and to use all of the resources that The Hidden Genius Project provides.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
I would tell future Geniuses to continue with the program even if they don’t like it at first because they will benefit from it in the end.