San Diego Foundation offices
The San Diego Foundation offices in Liberty Station.

The San Diego Foundation and University of San Diego Thursday announced they have partnered to fund and operate the Black InGenius Initiative, intended to prepare more Black secondary students for college, pay for college needs and create a center focused on supporting neurodivergent students for all San Diego educators.

The foundation seeded the program with a $1.5 million grant to USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences. The Black InGenius Initiative will be a college access and early literacy program annually serving a cohort of 60 Black students starting in fall 2023, a release from the foundation reads. Each year, a new sixth grade cohort will be added to the program, with 420 students anticipated to participate by 2030.

“For San Diego, like so many other American cities, systemic racism — both explicit and structural — targeting African Americans has deeply impacted generational upward mobility within our Black community,” said Mark Stuart, president and CEO of San Diego Foundation. “This new education initiative will create systemic changes in the way Black students are educated in San Diego.”

For students who complete seven years of participation in the initiative and are accepted to USD, the university will meet 100% of the “federally demonstrated financial need” of the student with a personalized financial assistance package.

“I am thrilled and honored to partner with San Diego Foundation and the Black Community Investment Fund to lead this important and groundbreaking work to engage the brains, hearts and minds of Black children, families, teachers and school leaders,” said Kimberly White-Smith, dean of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences.

“Culling practices from educational neuroscience, neurodiversity, multisensory structured literacy and trauma- informed practices, we embrace an asset-based approach that allows us to close the opportunity gap for Black children in San Diego and realize their genius.”

USD will provide students in the BiGi program with academic support delivered by faculty and students trained in neurodivergent teaching — or the idea that “since people experience and interact with the world around them in different ways, there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning or behaving,” the statement reads.

A lack of resources for teachers leaves neurodivergent Black students vulnerable to racism and ableism, according to the institutions, and often results in poor academic performance and behavioral problems.

To train educators in neurodivergent teaching, USD will also create a “teaching and learning” center with a goal to ensure that no child should be discarded as troubled or incapable of learning and that they are viewed as an asset to their community.

The grant is from the San Diego Foundation Black Community Investment Fund, which prioritizes and invests in community-led, innovative efforts that increase racial equity and generational wealth for Black San Diegans.

The fund was co-founded by the San Diego Foundation and the County of San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce and seeded with a $1 million from San Diego Foundation, $250,000 from San Diego Gas & Electric, $75,000 from Wells Fargo and $25,000 from Cox Communications in fall 2020. Additional funders include Bank of America with $425,000.

— City News Service