Jefferson Award Winner Leads Hidden Genius ProjectBy Allen Martin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) The next big tech idea could be percolating right now in an Oakland classroom. And chances are good it’s because this week’s Jefferson Award winner recognized the “hidden genius” behind it.

At six feet nine, Brandon Nicholson towers over the teenagers he’s helping. And in his suit and tie, he can seem pretty analytical.

“I’d say to run a non-profit you still want to run it like a good business,” he said.

But he’s not all business with the kids.

With a degree from Princeton and a PhD from Cal, Nicholson was hired in 2012 as the founding Executive Director of the Hidden Genius Project in Oakland. The non-profit trains black teenage males in computer coding, entrepreneurship, and leadership, seeing them as having limitless futures, but being vastly underserved.

“The idea was to get at those young men and help them engage and recognize the potential they have that they might see as hidden,” Nicholson explained.

Hidden Genius helps about 20 boys at a time. It’s free. So is the laptop each participant gets. But the teenagers have to commit to 15 months of weekly classes, and two summer sessions. At the end of the program, each comes away with a fully functioning app, as well as the skills to launch it and market it.

The goal isn’t to simply train more computer programmers. It’s to tap into a student’s potential for a better life.

“Even before they grow up so to speak, to begin having more opportunities to earn money, but also to take ideas that they have and turn them into something, to build things that matter to them and their communities,” Nicholson said.

“I don’t really know where I would have learned the skills I’ve learned here anywhere else,” said student Donovan Nutting. “I had already wondered, like, where I’m gonna go with this interest of mine. So it was really great that I found this place.”

While expansion may be in the future for Hidden Genius, Nicholson’s pretty happy with how it’s going right now.

“On Sunday evening I’m looking forward to Monday,” he said. “I no longer get that Sunday evening pit in my stomach which is pretty nice!”

So, for helping black teenagers grasp a limitless future, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Brandon Nicholson.