When I began my journey on the Information Highway, I didn't know that such a thing as the InterNet existed. My journey began in 1968-my photographic skills just being developed, I traveled around the country recruiting for the Peace Corps and it's domestic counterpart, Vista. My travels took me the Midwest visiting Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis/St. Paul and the West Coast visiting L.A., San Francisco, Sacramento and Seattle. I was 27 years old and had never traveled any farther north than New York City and no farther south than Portsmouth, VA. You'll notice that my initial frame of reference in regards to my journey on the Information Highway has been to tell you about some traveling I did in 1968. Well, 1968 was a turning point in my life-my first airplane experience, my first publishing exposure on a national level, my first appearance on television, my first college campus lecturing experience, my first (and only) Black Panther Party chapter meeting, my first living away from my home (Washington, DC) experience, finally leaving my "good government job" at that plantation called the US Post Office and it seems that all I'd experienced in my life prior to this time was to prepare me for a life of gathering and sharing information beginning at that point. ^^^^ The seventies began with the death of my father, Vernard Deleon Gray, a printer by trade who filled my younger years with wonderful stories about life, family and community, demonstrating in the way he lived what a man's responsibility to those things consisted of. His leaving left me with the responsibility as the man in the family-comprised of my mother, who created a significant library in our home, my sister, wife and first daughter. What my father and mother did, in a significant manner, was to share whatever they possessed with their fellow man and to this day, it is the principle creed I live by. In fact, recently I asked my mother about her recollections of those early years in my life and what had influenced this notion of information sharing in me. She informed me that, in our neighborhood, we had one of the first sets of Encyclopedia Britannica in our home and she encouraged youth from our community to come and do research for school assignments. Some of the same activity continues in her home, today. ^^^^ In 1969, I began teaching youth photography at Fides House in DC and soon discovered a communications revolution in the making. I became involved in the alternative television movement utilizing portable, battery-operated video production equipment that forever changed the gathering and distribution of audio-visual information via television networks. We used video as a documentation medium utilized for educational and organizing purposes. I continued to use video in documentation projects: Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Epes, AL-provided video documentation services (1971-72); "Tolbert: A Man of Change", a film documentary on the beginning of the Tolbert years in Liberia (1972).
In 1973, we created CA-FAM III, Inc., a not-for-profit professional corporation focusing on applied technology. The Shaw Community Documentation Project (1975) and the African Diaspora Project at the American Folklife Festival (1975) were the first of many projects. We continue to work with young people, developing their researching and communications skills, while incorporating community service concepts in our projects. The Shaw Project, entitled "Looking for our History" merged the use of technology, research and communications that did several things: 1) introduced the young people to why Washington is "Information Capital" of the world - they learned how the Library of Congress functions, identified housing ownership patterns in the Logan Circle neighborhood from 1875 until 1975 and discovered "behind the walls" of various museums within the Smithsonian complex. 2) help them develop effective interview techniques that were applied when they sought out elders in the community from whom they gathered historical facts. 3) worked with them on their writing skills enabling them to produce a definitive document about the project. 4) created an exhibition about the project that included written documents, photographs, graphic art and video interviews. "Looking for our History" taught me about the effective use of technology to empower people. ^^^^ On July 7, 1976, we opened the Miya Gallery as a facility to present various aspects of art and culture from the Diaspora. In 1978, utilizing a Radio Shack Model III, TRS 80 computer in our documentation / presentation projects and using an IBM Model 50 typewriter as a printing machine, we published Black Arts Review / Palavra (1978-82). The other principal uses of the computer were to maintain our database of customers/clients and as a document producer. By the mid 80's, we ceased using the TRS 80. ^^^^ As the nineties began, I proceeded to explore what services I wanted to continue and which new ones, if any, I wanted to pursue. What had become very clear during this time was the public's perception of who I was. I had been providing cultural services: photography, videography, researching, publishing, exhibit designing and presentation, wearable art design and production-for more than twenty years and was constantly called upon to provide some related information services. While I enjoyed providing such services, I felt that my clients, for the most part, placed little, if any, economic value on them and out of frustration to such attitudes, I began to think about creating an entity that would allow me to provide information services and be adequately compensated for same. In 1993, I purchased an IBM- PC compatible machine and immediately created my list of clients using Dbase IV software. As I explored the possibilities of new technologies, I would often state to my contemporaries that "I need to build something like an information-type highway so I could collect tolls from those who would want to use it" . Keep in mind that I didn't know of the term "Information Superhighway", coined by Vice President Al Gore. So, upon discovering the InterNet in the fall of 1994, I really knew something important was going on and I wanted to be involved.
I began my InterNet experience in January 1995 by logging on to America Online and immediately sent an e-mail to my friend Anita Brown and my journey into cyberspace adventure was launched. Anita cruises mostly on AOL and has created a unique place in cyberspace with her daily inspirational messages sent to hundreds of persons on the 'Net. She also has a web page to market her line of wearable memories on Melanet which promotes itself as the un-cut Black Experience on the Internet. William Jordan, of Melanet, who is an engineer by training became my first 'Net tutor who interprets my vision with a technical approach that anyone can understand. Without someone in your life like Jordan, bumping around on the 'Net could be stressful at times, especially if you don't know what you're doing.
During this period, I began to explore the possibilities of applied interactive technology and by early spring of 1996 I formulated the idea of the an online project. When we were planning this service we knew two principal activities would occur-interactivity and the process of change-hence the name InterCHANGE.org. The idea of the World Wide Web containing within it thousands, if not millions, of interactive tools/technology enabling a person, family, community, organization, nation, continent, world to bring about Social Change was/is an attractive one. By the spring I began to publish Nsagi's List: interactive tools and resources for a better quality of life in a small community-based newspaper in Southwest Washington where I grew up. Beginning in the fall, I began to publish Nsagi's List via e-mail to one hundred persons. My distribution list has grown to more than five thousand persons.
The InterCHANGE.org concept has at it's very center an Interactive Directory of Creative Sources. The idea is to create a interactive online database of individuals and organizations of creative sources for social exchange. The database will be accessible for posting and searching at a web site. Additionally, an Interactive Calendar of Gatherings for Social Exchange presented by individuals and organizations for creative social exchange. As with Creative Sources, the database will be accessible for posting and searching at a web site. Whatever happens beyond these two major functions will evolve from how the visitors choose use it - if InterCHANGE is to be successful, it "must" work for those who make it one their cyberhome spaces.
InterCHANGE.org was registered on August 15 when I registered it with InterNIC. The proposal page was soon mounted and remained there until Thursday, March 20, 1997 6:30 pm when I uploaded it's current set of inter-connected pages-sans database. The lack of the database at the very center of the site was the reason it took seven months to launch. I refused to have anything interactive there until I felt secure that the database would be present and accounted for or, at the least, on it's way.
What changed my reality was attending a Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets gathering on Friday, February 28, 1997. As the meeting moved forward and Mario Morino was sharing his vision the rest of us, I wondered whether this dude had literally reached inside my head and connected with my thoughts and dreams. I knew at that moment, that the Creator had delivered me to where I was supposed to be. In fact, for the previous month, every time I need something-especially information and inspiration-it would manifests itself. When I had an opportunity to share my vision with those assembled and my frustration with the lack of an effective database to implement it, Peter Bostom of the Netpreneur Project offered to help. That afternoon I sent him my design and by the following Monday, we established a meeting time for me to visit him at the Morino Institute and get this show on the road. Wednesday morning, March 5th, we began at 9:24 am by 11:15 we were finished and making plans for Peter to meet with my engineer, Eric Williams of Information Broker, Inc. to work out some engineering issues to enable InterCHANGE to move forward.
Good things do happen when they're suppose to!
vernard r gray