The Afro-Netizen story is simple, really.
During the summer of 1999 at the age of 29, I began an informal e-mail list with a few dozen e-mail addresses of my family, friends, colleagues, and other fellow netizens who I had corresponded with over the four years I had dwelled in cyberspace.
A self-admitted Internet addict, political junkie, and serial entrepreneur, I wondered that fateful summer in my hometown of Chicago just how many other Blackfolk were out there in cyberspace. At the same time I pondered this question, I continued to devour interesting news stories and other content that began to proliferate on the Internet, but whose substance rarely made it to the front pages of major publications or onto televised news programs (with very few exceptions).
A life-long student of Black history, politics, and genealogy, I often found myself reading and forwarding compelling articles and other information related to Blackfolk within my personal sphere of influence. In essence, I had become a "news aggregator" before this buzzword became en vogue amongst the digerati. Moreover, I sought to leverage the Internet for expressly civic matters as well, and it was in recognition of this latter distinction that begged the question: Knowing how few Blackfolk (in the U.S. and abroad) had regular, if not frequent access to the Internet at home and/or at work, what does one call this small subset of Blackfolk who represented intellectually-curious and civic-minded Internet users?
My answer came to me in a flash of inspiration:
"I'm an . . .
A nano-second after this Eureka moment, I scoured the web for any references for the term "afro-netizen", but nothing came up. Bingo! Peering out at the void, I immediately bought various domain names related to my newly coined term: "afro-netizen".
Within eighteen months from the time I coined this term, Afro-Netizen -- still a largely informal, underground e-mail list -- had grown to over 4,000 (direct) recipients in the U.S. and abroad. By 2001, Afro-Netizen surpassed 10,000 subscribers!
Originally set up as a listserv, Afro-Netizen later morphed into a more formal "e-newsletter". And today, this fast-growing online "community of conscience", so to speak, has expanded far beyond its humble origins, and is now managed under the auspices of my business development consultancy, Visceral Ventures LLC, which benefits from an impressive network of professional advisors and other associates.
Having operated in guerilla mode for five years, that virtual obscurity was all but obliterated after being invited by the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) to be an officially credentialed blogger at the 2004 convention in Boston last month.
As a result of my participation in the inaugural class of just 37 credentialed bloggers, Afro-Netizen received incredible press coverage, thus increasing web traffic and subscriptions to our free e-newsletter.
I'd be lying if I said that this was my plan. But I can honestly say that I knew covering the convention was something I had to do, and the rest would reveal itself. All I can say is that I have felt compelling to keep Afro-Netizen active despite the personal and financial costs associated with providing this free service because I am inspired by previous generations of "doers" within and beyond my family.
In particular, I draw great strength from my maternal grandmother, Madeline Wheeler Murphy -- a long-time community activist/organizer, former Baltimore TV personality and columnist in my family's Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper. Grandma Murphy has always spoken truth to power, fought for social justice within her adopted neighborhood of Cherry Hill for 40+ years, and has also maximized the power of the pen.
Another source of great inspiration for me is my long-departed ancestor and entrepreneurial muse, my paternal great-great-grandfather, "Mad" Jack Rabb, born to West African parents who were transported to the U.S. circa 1800 and enslaved by the Rabb family of Winnsboro, South Carolina.
Having bought himself and his family out of slavery, "Mad" Jack established a prosperous meat market in Columbus, Mississippi that he ultimately passed on to my great-grandfather before it went out of business during the Great Depression. But before it did, however, its operation paid for my grandfather and his brothers to attend Fisk University and Tuskegee Institute, who, in turn, set the precedent for educational attainment for each successive generation.
Indeed, without these (and other) formidable forbearers, I would not have known the freedoms, opportunities and successes I claim and aspire to today.
I have every confidence that with continued support and input from readers like you, Afro-Netizen will successfully transform itself from an underground avocation in its infancy into a full-fledged, innovative and independent web force dedicated to informing, inspiring, and engaging present and future afro-netizens and the communities they touch.
Thank you so much for your interest, advocacy, and ongoing support!
Christopher M. Rabb
Founder/Chief Evangelist, Afro-Netizen