Anita Brown, Founder and Chair, Black Geeks Online
Our special guest today is Anita
Brown, Founder and Chair of Black Geeks Online,
a nonprofit community organization based on the Internet.
This grassroots movement grew out of Ms. Brown's concern
in 1995 that people of color would be left out of the
so-called digital revolution. From 18 charter members
in 1996, Black Geeks Online has grown to more than 25,000
registered members in November 1999.
Through its offline program, "Taking IT to the Streets,"
Black Geeks members demonstrate culturally-sensitive ways
to bridge the "digital divide."
They set up cyberlabs in the 'hood, share success stories,
and encourage people of color to train for IT careers
and/or business ownership.
Black Geeks' widely forwarded Heads-UP email bulletins
serve as an information clearinghouse and cheering section
for Black technologists, netpreneurs, and community tech
And now please welcome Anita Brown.
Moderator: Hello, Anita. Thanks so much for
joining us today.
Moderator: Before we take questions
from the audience, could you just tell us a little bit
more about Black Geeks Online?
Anita: I'm assuming
everyone read your intro about Black Geeks. It pretty
much sez it all. I'll add a little more.
It's hard for the GEEK world to understand what I've been
doing since 1995. I have to tell reporters and others
that we're not your typical "dot-com" company.
We're a grassroots organization committed to (1)
linking tech-savvy African Americans online to encourage
volunteerism and (2) to sponsor technology awareness
events in urban communities to expose kids and adults
to IT. We are an OFFline and an ONline organization.
Moderator: That's an admirable mission.
guest-LadenaG says: Hello Anita,
My name is Tiffany. I am an Education Consultant for Athena
Computer Learning Center. I am interested in starting
a technology training non-profit in Nashville, TN. Can
you tell me how you gained funding for Black Geeks and
some of your best practices for running a non-profit?
Is there a way to create a chapter in Nashville?
To date, Black Geeks Online has never been funded. This
has been a labor of love for me and a small cadre of committed
I'm a 57-year old grandma. I am a former secretary who
types almost as fast as she talks. I am a communicator
who learned very quickly how to build community online
via email. Remember, there was no commercial web in 1995!
We all know how the funding/financing models for Internet
companies have changed over the years.
I was always reluctant to accept $$ from just anyone,
especially federal govt. agencies that require that you
do what they want.
Moderator: We at GirlGeeks completely agree.
So important not to sell out!!
Moderator: So how did you,
the atypical Web user become so Web savvy?
Anita: How I became
web savvy. With a lot a help from my geek friends.
I've been reading THE CLUETRAIN MANIFESTO and I agree
with the authors. Companies have not a clue about what
people want. They relate to us as consumers, hits, clicks,
page-thrus. Page views.
Moderator: Sad, but true.
Anita: And we're all
feeling less than human because of Internet, web advertising
and the almighty quest for the BIG hit via a web company.
Moderator: So, what can we
do to change that? To bring the human back to the Web
while remaining in business?
Anita: Good question.
First, as women, I believe we must be true to ourselves.
The world need women and what they bring to the mix.
Many of us, however, are juggling roles and functioning
like men. I advise us to get still (not something this
arena promotes) and really ask ourselves what is MY work?
If mother and wife is your dream. Be that. We all have
a dream in our hearts. Make the WORLD fit your dream,
not the other way around. And if your particular dream
fits in the Worldwide Web, go for it. If it doesn't, go
where it does fit.
Moderator: Really, really good advice. So often
people ask what will make money before they ask what will
make their life valuable.
And that's the problem I have when I speak to CEOs, college
students, and women around the country.
On June 2 I will serve on a panel at Harvard Univ. One
of the coordinators told me it's gotten so bad that a
student left Harvard to start a dot-com. He said he would
feel like a failure if he wasn't a millionaire by age
guest-Stacyyy asks: It's no
secret that Silicon Valley is predominantly white. How
can African Americans get more involved in this industry?
Anita: I'll answer
that question about African Americans getting involved
in IT in Silicon Valley like this:
Looking at the problem from the wrong end again. IT is
a "white boy's" game. So you force them to set up a "diversity"
program and you are now working for a company that resents
how you got there. I'd rather see women and Blacks, Latinos
doing the same thing I said earlier: follow YOUR dream.
True, no entity corporation has the right to deny you
employment if you are qualified and jobs are open in your
field. I'd rather see women, Blacks, Latinos starting
their OWN companies!
Moderator: So, what can be
done at a grass roots level to change the scenery?
Anita: re: changing
the scenery. Moving bushes and trees is not enough! We
need to change hearts and minds. And that is only done
one-on-one. That's why chat and email are powerful tools
for connecting online. As Cluetrain's authors say: marketing
is a conversation. So is life.
I'm just not the one to pretend to have answers to the
"the funding issues." I embrace this affirmation. Do What
You Love... the Money Will Follow. That's a book on authentic
work by California's Marsha Sinetar. Believe it!
I know we all have to pay the rent, the car note, day
But this is really a spiritual/Faith issue. If you don't
believe "the money will come" it won't.
Moderator: We agree whole-heartedly with that
philosophy, too. And it does work. Which leads nicely
to our next question...
Moderator: About this Rent
Party we've heard so much about...can you give us the
Anita: Indeed. After
4.5 years, we finally struck on a fund-raising project
that I could embrace. It will involve our online "faceless"
members and be a lot of fun.
On April 15 from 6 - 10 pm EST we will launch a month-long
BLACK GEEKS RENT PARTY. Remember, I'm 57... rent parties
were popular in the 60s and 70s.
When you couldn't make ends meet, you invited friends
and family members over. They paid a nominal amount, ate
good food, drank spirits, played cards, etc. till the
wee hours of the morning.
So... we're going to do that from my home-office and online!
Anita: We are extremely
fortunate to have two DC area start-ups who want to provide
in-kind services. Streampipe.com is going to Webcast the
launch and Toad.net will do the online donation process.
It will be a challenge to create the old feeling, but
I'm extremely good and writing in the vernacular!
Moderator: So it's a Webcast as well as an offline
event? How can people get involved?
Anita: I'll be blanketing
the Net with promos. Either join Black Geeks at www.blackgeeks.net
to get announcements straight from Miss DC's mouth or
visit the site in about a week and we'll have RSVP forms
and details there.
Moderator: Sounds like a lot of fun!! GirlGeeks
will definitely be there.
Anita: I count GirlGeeks
as a Friend of Black Geeks Online!
Moderator: We'd like to know
if you have had any mentors along the way as you entered
the world of tech?
Anita: I've been mentored
by William Jordan of www.melanet.com, who is based here
in DC and in Norfolk, VA. He and Eric Williams of www.infobro.com
had held my hand, kicking and screaming, to become a "geek".
Another mentor is Mario Morino a pioneer software developer
who cashed out and started a foundation to take IT to
kids and families who could benefit from it.
Moderator: That's great. Mentorship is so important.
We're almost out of time, Anita. What
final parting words of advice do you have for aspiring
geeks of all walks of life out there?
this audience is made of mostly of women. Right?
Anita: If you know
the technology and have a burning desire to do it on the
web, go for it! But know that "netpreneurship" ain't for
everybody. LONG hours! Seven-day weeks.
You must be willing to take risks. I'd advise you to get
with a team of creative, talented folks and learn, learn,
Moderator: Good advice!! Anita, you've been
a wonderful guest.
Anita: I wish we could
have answered more questions. Thanks, GirlGeeks!
Moderator: Again, thank you so much, Anita.
A special Thank You to Anita Brown for chatting with us!