Calling All Geeks

Black Internet enthusiasts spread IT around

Of the hundreds of black-oriented Web sites, newsgroups and mailing lists on the Internet, Black Geeks Online (wwvv.blackgeeks.net) is one of the few places where blacks can gather in a community- like setting to network and help get others wired. Founded to promote computer literacy and educate others about the power and potential of information technology (IT), the group’s activities are all-inclusive, reaching everyone from techies to those who have never even been on a computer before. “When you first get online, Black Geeks should be the first place you check out,” says Maurice Thompson, a Web master and manager for Bell Atlantic Mobile.

The virtual organization is the brainchild of Anita Brown, a 54-year-old former technophobe who’s had various stints working for the federal government and several nonprofit organizations. Ironically, when Brown, who became an entrepreneur in 1989, was first introduced to the Internet in 1994, she had her doubts. “I thought it was Big Brother and not to be trusted,” Brown says. “We didn’t have any business on it.” Eventually, after cruising the Web, she overcame her initial suspicions and became hooked. By late 1995, Brown’s experiences online prompted her involvement in a project to encourage black people to come online.

She launched Black Geeks in January 1996. The virtual community rapidly grew to more than 1,200 people who now receive the group’s electronic dispatches. Members are spread across the country — and the globe, including Australia, South Africa, England, Japan and the Ivory Coast. And they are by no means solely composed of technical professionals or what Brown calls “serious geeks.” Black Geeks are also students, lawyers, artists, teachers, parents and entrepreneurs.

One of the most significant efforts of Black Geeks is the role it serves as a clearinghouse of timely information for Afro- cyberspace. With a monthly newsletter, bLINKS, and frequent Heads-UP bulletins, Black Geeks provides current information on new media developments, software and hardware updates, company announcements and job listings. Members are quick to forward information that may be valuable to someone else in the organization or anyone else who has access to e-mail.

These electronic dispatches reach well beyond members because they are forwarded many times over, to other lists, throughout the federal government, colleges and many companies — including all 400 black employees of Microsoft. “We reach several thousand African Americans several times a week,” explains Brown. For Eric Williams, one of the original Black Geeks and president of Information Brokers Inc. in Washington, D.C. (www.infobro.com), the organization allows him to pass his expertise on to others. “I want to share what I know,” he says. Williams and other Black Geeks are actively involved in helping to bring the Internet to the unconnected through workshops and seminars.

The Washington, D.C., “chapter” hosted Black Geeks’ first offline recruiting effort this past summer. “Taking IT to the Streets” introduced more than 200 people to the Internet in a Web seminar that also had a live feed to chat rooms on the Internet. “It was an inter- generational event,” says Brown. “There

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