“I needed someone to invest in my genius at a very young age,” said Novien Yarber, Ph.D., a senior fellow for Leadership, Philanthropy and Social Impact at the Nonprofit Institute at University of San Diego (USD). “That’s how I arrived here today.”

Having lived it himself, Yarber knows and understands the struggles Black students face at a disproportionate level in San Diego and across America. Years later, he credits his own success to the help he received from his parents to lay his foundation and put the pieces of his life together.

He is now part of the USD team looking to pave the way towards higher education for Black students through the Black Ingenious Initiative (BiGI).

“Our goal is to create an ecosystem that is deeply rooted,” he told CBS8 for a story about the initiative.

Inventing Genius

BiGI is designed to uplift Black students in San Diego County. In an interview with CBS8, Kimberly White-Smith, Ed.D., the USD Dean of School of Learning and Education Sciences (SOLES), explained how Black students are targeted in the classroom.

Statistics show that school systems often overshadow opportunities for growth and success in the Black community.

“We see this disproportionately in the number of African Americans that are expelled from school,” White-Smith said. “We see that they are three times more likely to be expelled from school or kicked out of the classroom than their peers.”

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Partnering for Success

To help launch the initiative, USD received a $1.5 million grant from the San Diego Foundation (SDF) Black Community Investment Fund. This money not only helps develop BiGI, but also lays the foundation towards college for annual cohorts of 60 Black sixth graders in San Diego County.

BiGI is an example of how SDF advances its vision of just, equitable and resilient communities.

Creating Results

The initiative centers on recognizing Black students and providing educators training in neurodivergent teaching for students who have brain differences that affect how their brains work, such as those on the autism spectrum. The goal is to help more educators realize there is no ‘right’ way of thinking, learning or behaving as all people are unique and interact with society differently.

Yarber told CBS8 he hopes BiGI will help Black youth recognize their own genius and ingenious, and close the achievement gap in San Diego.

It’s anticipated that around 420 students will participate in the program by 2030. For those who complete seven years with the program and are accepted to USD, the university will meet 100 percent of their federally demonstrated financial need.

BiGI is modeled after a 31-year-old program at the University of Southern California, the Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative.

Learn more about the Black Ingenious Initiative.