The other day, someone asked what The Hidden Genius Project’s response would be to the current civil unrest related to the most recent acts of police violence and racial justice, more broadly. In this age of inspirational messages, it almost came as a shock that an organization centered on empowering boys and young men might not have a solemn statement to deliver by way of MailChimp. I want to express my thoughts–
When The Hidden Genius Project taught the first Intensive Immersion Program to our first cohort in 2012, it was roughly four months after Trayvon Martin’s and Rekia Boyd’s passing, nearly three-and-a-half years following Oscar Grant’s passing, two years before Mike Brown’s and Sandra Bland’s passing, and four years before Philando Castile’s. To be clear: our approach and curriculum has been one long, intentional response to the current global political context.
There has been a litany of messages from organizations around the world–from department stores to sports leagues, to insurance companies–acknowledging the significance of state-sanctioned violence against black lives, and in some cases, expressing solidarity with racial justice movements. We don’t sell insurance. We get to the office at 7:30 in the morning to wrap our arms around these boys who are growing up with this on their hearts every day. That is the best response we can muster.
At some point–for us–there are diminishing returns to public statements and “thoughts and prayers,” because we have built this to hold and soothe the hurt of the people doing this work and the people receiving it. When racist police murder people from our communities, it leaves an indelible imprint on our lives. With that said–if that imprint starts to draw energy away from our work to empower our young men to rise above that imprint–at some point, it’s counter-productive.
It is important for the insurance companies of the world to let us know they recognize that their commerce is not business as usual right now. We want to know that they know there is something greater going on. However, The Hidden Genius Project has built an organization that represents the ultimate salvo against “business as usual.” Ain’t nothin’ usual about what we do or the need for it, in the first place; thus, we are focused on the work.
Our staff has responded to the recent events in a multitude of ways but it is amazing to see how our work has its own healing properties. Just last week we honored 25 Geniuses who couldn’t walk the stage at traditional graduations. They were excited to hear words of wisdom and inspiration from their peers, family members, staff members along with special guests Mellody Hobson and Andre Iguodala. We were all celebrating a benchmark I will never apologize for reiterating: every single young black boy that came through our program that could have graduated this year IS graduating, plus one we worked with to ensure he finished after dropping out last year. That is The Hidden Genius Project’s response to these times, because ain’t nothing new.
I’m proud of our team and community for powering through these past couple weeks/months/years/centuries to make sure we could have black male youth reporting 100% high school graduation. That response to Trayvon, Rekia Oscar, Mike, Sandra, Philando, and everyone else got us here. It has never escaped the DNA of our approach. Not even for a day.
What does the future look like? In the end, our young men are still doing fantastic things in the aftermath. This summer, we are working with 120 Black high school boys from communities in and around Oakland, Richmond, and Los Angeles, through our Intensive Immersion Program–that’s on top of the hundreds more young people we hope to serve by way of other community partnerships and events.
Brandon Nicholson | Executive Director