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Anita's full bioAnita Borg

1 What is Black Geeks Online?

2 How did you get funding and how do you run your non-profit?

3 How did you become so web savvy?

4 How do you humanize a web business?

5 How can African Americans get more involved in the tech industry?

6 How can we change the scenery?

7 What's an online Rent Party?

8 Have you had any techie mentors?

9 Do you have any words of advice to offer?

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 leaders.

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?

Anita: 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 volunteers.

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.

Anita: Amen!

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 24!

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 care, etc.

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 details?

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. is going to Webcast the launch and 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 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, who is based here in DC and in Norfolk, VA. He and Eric Williams of 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?

Anita:I'm assuming this audience is made of mostly of women. Right?

Moderator: Yes.

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, 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!


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