It is important to battle the urge to talk about our Black boys and young men as hapless charity cases. When we do that, we tacitly suggest that we are doing this segment of our society a favor, in hopes of effecting a better world. With that said, we have the opportunity to elevate the agency of our Black boys in addressing the gamut of our society’s challenges. These are thinkers, builders, creators and mentors in their own right. Investing in them is investing in a better future that they play a hand in designing and bringing to fruition.
I feel great pride every time I witness The Hidden Genius Project’s Alumni Youth Educators in action. We train young alumni of our 15-month Intensive Immersion Program to facilitate programming for other youth in our communities, which allows them to earn a solid wage while we expand our reach and serve young people from an even broader array of backgrounds. This component of our work continually reminds me that the young men we work with are not merely receptacles for the lessons and wisdom we believe ourselves to be passing down to them; they are dynamic problem solvers who can simultaneously learn new things while teaching others and developing their own unique solutions to community challenges.
For example, six years ago one of our Geniuses needed a lot of holistic support from us, even as he possessed great talent and promise. We understood that we would have to do many things for him and his family, and pour into him so that he might one day realize his potential. That Genius not only went on to complete high school and enroll in college to study computer science, he developed into a fantastic person and now works full-time as one of The Hidden Genius Project’s educators. He brings a fresh perspective, new ideas and first-hand knowledge of just how impactful his work can be. As he teaches and mentors young people, he does apply some of the skills we taught him, but frequently it is now him who is teaching us creative methods to reach younger generations effectively.
When we first began supporting him six years ago, we were not merely doing magnanimous deeds; we were investing in one of our most valuable growth solutions. We see this with so many of our Geniuses who mentor their peers, engage in community advocacy and leadership, and innovate as the protagonists of our better future.
If it seems that these lessons could apply to young people across backgrounds and identities, that is because they absolutely can and should. Nevertheless, it is critical that we believe they apply to our Black male youth; if we do not, we must do the work to come to terms with why that is.
We each have an opportunity to make good on that belief in our daily lives. We may lend an attentive ear, offer a word of compassionate advice, make helpful connections within our networks (and/or help strategize on how to find one) or, of course, support the organizations in our communities (such as The Hidden Genius Project). If nothing else, we can simply carry the belief in our young people’s capacity to create limitless value in this world. I am a witness to its power; it is worth our investment as our Black boys will continue to deliver the returns.
Brandon Nicholson is the Founding Executive Director of The Hidden Genius Project.