Olana Abraham (Richmond Cohort 3) understands the power of a good support system. He’s quick to attribute his community of brothers as the most important thing he gained from participating in The Hidden Genius Project. He’s also become a part of that support system, returning to the program as a Youth Educator after graduating from the Intensive Immersion Program himself two years ago—something Olana knew he wanted to do while he was participating in the program. As Olana prepares to leave home for his first year at UCLA this fall, he knows access to his brotherhood is just a phone call away. “I still feel like I have a community full of people that can support me with any challenges I face or any questions I have.”

How have you been? 

Life has been good. I’ve been trying to stay healthy and enjoy the rest of my summer before I start school at UCLA. My mom is constantly bringing up how I’m going to leave her soon for Los Angeles. I know my mom and my family will miss me when I leave for school.

How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?

I first learned about The Hidden Genius Project from my brother’s college friend who happened to be Abraham Keleta (Sr. Innovation Educator). 

What was your experience in the program like?

I enjoyed learning new skills in technology creation, radical social entrepreneurship, and leadership, including building a connection with my brothers in the program. One of my favorite highlights was in 2019 when everyone in my cohort was practicing their business pitches and I was really nervous. After I gave my first pitch I knew immediately I wasn’t satisfied with my performance. My brothers and educators really encouraged me to give my pitch another try until I got it right. At that point, I understood the power of a good support system and persistence because I felt more confident and comfortable about presenting my pitch.

Learning about technology was definitely a positive experience because I was able to gain useful skills like HTML, JavaScript, and C# which I can apply to my career and future. I also enjoyed the leadership sessions a lot because I had the opportunity to learn so much about Black History alongside people who looked like me. 

Describe the app you designed during your time in the Intensive Immersion Program.

The app I designed during my time in the program was a ZigZag runner game that is similar to Temple Run. The goal of the game is to collect as many points as possible without falling off the map.

How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?

The Hidden Genius Project provides an inclusive environment, which is something that many other programs, particularly those related to STEM, don’t offer. I have always been the lone or one of the few Black participants in STEM programs. But with the Immersion Program being for young Black males, The Hidden Genius Project made me feel like I belong, setting it apart from other programs.

What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you? 

During my time in the program, I was able to build up my leadership, networking, programming, and entrepreneurship skills. As a young leader, I understood the importance of being responsible, self-aware, and holding myself and others accountable, which is a critical skill to have. Also, the ability to network and create connections was another great skill I use often when looking for opportunities. They always stressed that “its not about what you know, but who you know”, and I always carry that with me. 

Overall, the most beneficial skill to me is my ability to code. The Hidden Genius Project helped me become a computer science major by teaching me how to code in multiple languages. I am already putting these skills to use in my summer bridge courses at UCLA.

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 from participating in this program was a sense of brotherhood and community that I will always have. Even though I graduated from the program I still feel like I have a community full of people that can support me with any challenges I face or any questions I have. 

Truthfully, I would not have known what I wanted to study in college if I hadn’t taken part in The Hidden Genius Project. I learned how to code thanks to The Hidden Genius Project, without which I never would have realized that it was something I was interested in.

When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?

Before I joined The Hidden Genius Project, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do in the future and didn’t really know anything. After graduating from and working for The Hidden Genius Project, I realized that I’m a completely different person from before I started the program. Throughout my time in the program, I learned about problems in my community, multiple programming languages, and what I want to do in college as a career.

In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?

I have remained in The Hidden Genius Project by coming back and working as a Youth Educator, including this summer. I knew during my time in the program that I wanted to become a Youth Educator because I wanted to stay connected with my community and give back to the organization. As a Youth Educator in Richmond, I focused on developing the curriculum, grading and leading lessons, and assisting Geniuses with their technical projects. 

In addition, the staff at The Hidden Genius Project has stayed connected with me by offering many job opportunities like working on the curriculum team or being a Youth Educator in the summer. The College Advising staff also helped me throughout my college application process with personal letters and scholarships.

If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?

If I could have a conversation with myself before applying, I would advise myself to prepare for the opportunities that may come my way so I can take advantage of them. 

What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?

I would tell future Geniuses to work hard and put in a lot of effort into the program because they are given so many opportunities to succeed. Additionally, I would advise them to build relationships with others and to avoid burning bridges since you never know what can come from it.

Since 2012, nearly 8,400 students have revealed their genius through our Immersion, Catalyst, and Community Partner Programs, and so many more are waiting to shine.


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