fourteen years ago, William Malcolm might pull out their resume and point to an impressive job title: “insurance and financial services manager.” While the words on the page described a booming businessman, Malcolm tells a different story.
“I used to own an insurance agency. I was in banking and financial services. And I did well because I’m a people person, but it wasn’t fulfilling,” said the 53-year-old man. Southfield native graduated in 1995 from Western Michigan University with a degree in business administration. “There’s nothing like pulling up to a spot and your name is on the outside and you don’t want to come in.”
The fulfillment Malcolm longed for began to come into his life when he made the bold decision to launch a menswear line (William Malcolm Luxe Collection) in 2009.
“I was always into fashion and design at a young age, but the people in my life who loved me and wanted to protect me would say I don’t know anyone who does this (fashion) professionally,” said Malcolm, who revealed how much he respected the designs his mother (Ernestine) made in her sewing room when he was growing up. “It was my wife (Tiffany) who heard me praying for my youngest daughter (Chelsea) and telling her she could be anything she wanted to be, who challenged me and asked: ‘When are you going to be what you want to be?’ My wife gave me her blessing and said, ‘I want you to pursue your passion.'”
But just as a good tailored suit requires a solid combination of shirt and tie, Malcolm felt driven to add even more flavor to his life as he unleashed his creative side. And for Malcolm, the perfect accompaniment to a career in fashion was becoming a mentor.
“It’s funny, but once you do something that’s your purpose, you find the energy to do other things,” Malcolm explained. “As I learned and worked through some of the lean times, it felt like I was making up for lost time. And I made a commitment that I wouldn’t want another young man doesn’t do what he’s passionate about, so I started coaching.”
After initially mentoring young adults, the costume and shoe designer found his perfect match as a mentor at the Frederick Douglass Academy For Young Men, a Detroit public, where he mentored students through a program he started in 2015 as a volunteer called Dream Kings Leadership Program. Malcolm’s in-person work at Frederick Douglass was halted in 2020 due to the pandemic. But today, he’s back in costume and face-to-face with young people thanks to a new program for Detroit called The hidden genius project.
“I was built for this,” said Malcolm, who is the Detroit site manager for The hidden genius projecta national program headquartered in Oakland, Californiawho “trains and mentors young black men in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to transform their lives and communities.”
Recently, 15 of the 16 young men recruited by Malcolm to participate in the project’s 15-month intensive immersion program, which targets students entering ninth, tenth and final year, gathered at the Dick and Sandy Dauch Club of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan (16500 Tireman) for a busy 71/2 hour activity day. And about an hour before their 8:30 am Arrivals, Jamie Berger already made the space of the group at the Boys and Girls Club inviting for a full day of learning and fun. Like Malcolm, Berger says his new job as a The hidden genius project Senior Innovation Educator and Curriculum Specialist at the Detroit allows her to contribute positively to the lives of young black men in a way that aligns with who she is as a person.
“I still have my LinkedIn Alerts active and this post came across as something I might be interested in,” said Berger, 30, who grew up in Ann Arbor and had previously taught in washington d.c. “I looked at the website and found the mission and was like ‘oh my God!’ There’s black people and there’s technology and I said, ‘it’s right up my alley.’ I liked the job after being in a very bureaucratic school system, where there’s not a lot of creativity you can get, because you have to check off all these checklists and all these tests. There are no grades and there is no expectation that you have to pass this super lame standardized test.
“So now I have the ability to create all these interactive lessons, like the first day I teach them algorithms in our fundamentals of computing and they’re like, ‘Where are our laptops?’ And I said, ‘You don’t need computers to learn computer science.’ Then I took them to the basketball court and said “you’re a robot and you’re a programmer, program it to shoot” The robots couldn’t do anything without the instructions of the programmer , and lessons like that got them talking to each other, interacting with each other, and being less shy right from the start.”
Berger shared that she also likes to mix football into the day, which for her means playing quarterback when the young men play a game on the field behind the Boys and Girls Club during their recess after lunch. And based on comments shared on Thursday, the lessons that Berger and The hidden genius project taught in a variety of spaces in and around the Boys and Girls Club have already made a significant impression on the participants from the second week of the program by Detroit.
“We have a community, and we are growing and we will continue to grow,” said Bryson-Tayloran 11th grader at Marygrove School and a budding scientist, who described the sense of brotherhood that has already developed between the 16 members of the first Detroit a kind of The hidden genius project. “We all like the same things and it helped us connect very quickly and the program also emphasizes brotherhood.”
Bryant Parnell is an 11th grader University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, and, like Taylor, Parnell spoke of brotherhood. In fact, Parnell was a catalyst in creating the early bond shared by program participants by taking the initiative to go around each table and get the names and schools of everyone present as the young men met for the first time in person. Parnell said the closeness participants share makes learning more fun.
“I find it interesting how I can link to different websites, but what’s really fun is that I can do it with all my friends in there, because I can help people and they can help me,” Parnell said. , who expressed his desire to become a lawyer to “help people”.
Kameron Patterson made it clear he planned to make the most of every moment of his time on the program when he said ‘wasted talent is a very big travesty’ during a discussion about the leadership the young men had on the qualities of a “good man” and a “real man”. At 13, Patterson isn’t shy about speaking up and defending his positions, and he’s already thought about the impact he’d like to have on the future of The hidden genius project in Detroit.
“As a first generation, I’m looking forward to meeting new brothers next year and next summer,” said Patterson, an aspiring businessman or athlete, or both, who is entering ninth grade at Berkley High School. “And I encourage other members of the community to try to interview for this process because it’s really fun here and we do a lot of things that help you prepare for college – a lot of things – but it’s really fun. It’s really laid back and you can still be a kid.”
And like The hidden genius project enriches and nurtures young men in Detroit over the years, 16 years Josiah Forrest committed that the brand of entrepreneurship taught to young men will ultimately directly benefit the city of Detroit as well.
“In this program, by the end of the summer, we should have a website built and we should have a business that we want to start that will improve the community,” said Forrest, an 11th grader at University High School Academywho described a walk in the surrounding neighborhood of the Boys and Girls Club which prompted him to want to make improvements to the people of the area. “We are not ordinary entrepreneurs who start a business and try to help themselves primarily. We are like radical social entrepreneurs who try to help the community first and then ourselves.”
Forrest’s statement echoed the words of a CEO, and it would be Shawn WilsonPresident and CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Michigan. Wilson says The hidden genius project found the ideal city in Detroit to broadcast its program and the ideal person to lead the effort locally in William Malcolm.
“I was aware The hidden genius project for years, so I was already a fan,” Wilson said.
illustration by sommer torabi/usa today network; and images by getty