Bridging Digital Divides

In 1994, I was fortunate to get a job as a writer/researcher for a “Best of the Web” directory published by a computer software firm. By the time I graduated with my M.A., I had been promoted to Managing Editor and moved from Northridge, California to Los Angeles. I proposed new categories aimed at helping women and people of color find the online communities that were emerging in mid-’90s.

My co-workers and I were sent to the major Internet conferences of the day — in Las Vegas, New York and Silicon Valley — where I met more than a few CEOs who suggested I start my own consulting business. In 1997, I followed their advice and founded Bordercross Communications, a website planning and marketing consultancy.

I also became actively involved in the movement to bridge the “digital divide.” While others focused on access to the Internet, I was especially concerned about the need for online content created by, for and about women and people of color.

I volunteered at Breakaway Technologies, a non-profit community technology center in South Central L.A., where I proposed organizing an Internet conference aimed at African Americans. The director, Joseph Loeb, told me that he knew other digital divide activists who were already planning such a summit. We met and joined forces. I convinced me three other partners to focus not only on access to the Internet but also on the need for online content written by and for people of African descent.

We partnered with Todd Shurn from the Computer Science Department at Howard University, and held our summit on its DC campus in September 1997: I think it was the nation’s first official gathering on online content by, for and about people of African descent. The event was called “Internet Opportunities for African Americans,” and panelists included Clarence Wooten, Philip Emeagwali and Anita Brown, among others.

At a DC nonprofit called Byte Back, I continued to address my concerns about the digital divide by volunteering as a teacher. The nonprofit offers DC-area residents free Internet access and computer classes. As a volunteer, I also led trainings in Internet marketing and website planning for women’s organizations like the Women’s Business Center and the Women’s Information Network.

At national conferences I met fellow activists. These gatherings included Connecting All Americans for the 21st Century, one of the first national conferences to address digital divide concerns (in 1998), and the 1998 and 1999 conferences of Networks for People.

At Howard University, I guest lectured on several occasions for classes in the Journalism department, where I spoke about online journalism and entrepreneurship. I ended up mentoring a journalism student at Howard, and I’m happy to report that she went on to have a successful career. I continued to mentor women and people of color in the years to follow, remembering my promise to Hilda Wenner to “pay it forward.”

Georgetown University’s adult education program hired me to classes on Internet marketing and online content development, and these became very popular. Nonetheless, teaching Internet marketing did not fulfill my soul. Something was missing.