This article by KEN SHULMAN first appeared in SLICE OF MIT
What do boxer Joe Frazier’s birth, the admission of the first African American student to the University of Tennessee, and the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010 have in common? They were the daily facts featured on the January 12, 2021, home page of BlackFacts.com.
“We want to become the Black Wikipedia,” says BlackFacts.com founder Ken Granderson ’85, “the one-stop shop for news, technology, culture, and anything Black. We want to inspire people of color across the globe, as well as friends from any culture. And we want to empower the Black community to take control of its own narrative so we can tell our own stories.”
Son of second-generation Caribbean immigrants, Granderson was born and raised in a predominantly Black Brooklyn neighborhood. While his father supported the family working as a postal supervisor, his mother took secretarial jobs to send Granderson and his brother to a private school. “It was there that I saw my first computer and caught the computer bug,” he recalls.
Granderson arrived at MIT in 1980 and spent five years there, studying electrical engineering and working as a DJ at parties and college campuses across New England. “I was having so much fun, I stayed an extra year,” he says.
The path to BlackFacts.com was anything but straight, he notes in retrospect. After graduation, Granderson helped a friend in Boston’s South End recruit home sales reps for a Black-owned skin care company. He worked a series of temporary jobs. One of these brought him to Phoenix Technologies, an IBM clone chip manufacturer outside of Boston. The company soon hired him full time. While working there, he taught himself programming and launched several shareware products.
In 1992, after his third shareware product was offered for sale nationwide in a book sold at CompUSA stores, he left his job and launched a company called Inner City Software. “I looked around and saw that this technology thing is different,” Granderson recalls. “There’s no old-boy network. There’s no one trying to keep me out.”
Working in a basement apartment on Massachusetts Avenue where he’d installed an extra phone line, Granderson set out to create software and online networks that could bridge the so-called digital divide and help bring communities of color into the digital age. For the next 12 years, the company produced digital Black history books and built and hosted websites for Black organizations and others. It brought the Bay State Banner, Boston’s Black newspaper, online. Granderson organized and led technical literacy workshops. And in 1997 he created the original BlackFacts website.
“I wanted to do anything I could to make Black people see that this technology was just as available to us as it was to anybody else,” he says. “I saw myself as an unapologetically Black person taking control of his destiny and trying to inspire others to do the same.”
I wanted to do anything I could to make Black people see that this technology was just as available to us as it was to anybody else.
Throttled by globalization and free software, Granderson closed Inner City Software in 2004. While he worked at a series of startups, BlackFacts.com sleepwalked forward on autopilot. But in February 2017, Granderson and his longtime collaborator, Dale Dowdie, decided to revive the dormant site. “We saw it was time to try and make this thing work,” he says. “The political situation in the country had changed.”
Technology, too, had changed since 1997. And Granderson and Dowdie took full advantage of it. Unlike the original version, which delivered to users a handful of facts curated by Granderson both on the site and in a daily email, the new BlackFacts.com uses artificial intelligence to locate and aggregate relevant content from across the web. A searchable database allows users to find items in Black history, culture, and commerce by date, beginning in 1600. Dowdie produces and posts a daily video, “Black in the Day,” that highlights a person, anniversary, or event. As part of Granderson’s commitment to building community through technology, the site also features APIs that enable coders to create their own applications on top of its content. Perhaps the most striking new element is a news window, launched on Juneteenth 2020, called Wakanda News, named for the fictitious African country in Marvel’s Black Panther comic book series.
“The people in Wakanda possess superior technology that enables them to keep their culture intact,” says Granderson. “We deliberately invoke that image to state that we too have superior technology and we’re deploying it to protect our community.”
Granderson hopes to create a revenue stream for BlackFacts.com from sources including online ads, widget sales, and corporate subscriptions. The site has a social media following of 200,000, mostly on Facebook and Instagram. Journalist and radio host Jamila Bey has observed that Granderson is “using technology to create the future of Black history.”
“I’m on the same mission here that I was when I launched my first company,” says Granderson. “To empower the Black community through technology. I know that others before me paid, sometimes in blood, for me to have this opportunity. I know I’m just one link in a chain that I have no right to break.”
About Ken Granderson
Ken Granderson is an MIT alumnus and tech pioneer who has been driven by a vision of establishing a black presence in the hi-tech industry since the 1990s. After teaching himself to program for Windows 3.0 in 1989, by 1992, Ken sold enough copies of a shareware desktop utility he wrote via the dial-up bulletin board systems that preceded the Internet to quit his I/T job to do programming on his own full-time.
Inspired by the achievement of building global customer base out of his basement apartment with nothing but a computer, a second phone line and a lot of ingenuity and hard work, Ken viewed the up and coming Information Age as a singular opportunity for historically disadvantaged communities to ‘leapfrog’ into parity with those who had created wealth in earlier industries that had high barriers to entry due to high capital demands and ‘old boy networks,’ and named his new company Inner-City Software, (a euphemism for Black Software Company), with an initial slogan “Brainz in Da ‘Hood,” which played off the title of the popular 1991 film “Boyz in the ‘Hood.”
As computers started gaining traction in society, the term ‘Digital Divide’ was used to describe concerns about certain demographics getting left behind as society became more digitally oriented, and with the mission of ‘Bringing Communities of Color Into the Information Age,’ Inner-City Software embarked on a mission to help make computer technology approachable and relevant to communities of color by creating ethnically-oriented software products (1995), launching online urban communities (1996), and launching the Internet’s first database-driven black history web site, Blackfacts.com, in 1997.
Over the next half-dozen years, Ken and Inner-City Software did technical literacy workshops, built social networks, online publications and business applications, and provided web hosting for many businesses and organizations, both locally and nationally, including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Ken shut down Inner-City Software in 2004 to work on a series of startups, and BlackFacts ran on automatic for over a decade. However, in 2017, Ken and longtime friend / collaborator Dale Dowdie decided that recent societal and political events compelled them to reactivate BlackFacts.com and use their combined expertise to make it the largest and most credible source of information about the history, achievements and events of people of color accessible to anyone, anywhere, any time, on any device that can access the Internet.We have the vision. We have the skills. We have the technology. In the spirit of Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois and John Hope Franklin, we will use BlackFacts.com to
- Inform ALL communities about past and present contributions of people of color
- Engage teachers and others with facts to share with our global knowledge publishing platform
- Inspire others to create more technologies that help ‘Uplift The Race!’
About Dale A. Dowdie
President/CEO Intellitech Consulting Enterprises, Inc.
Co-Founder and CEO of Blackfacts.com
Founder and Lead Architect of BARBinc.com
Dale Dowdie founded Intellitech Consulting Enterprises in 1993, the 3rd company he had started since his first company started while still in college. The goal of Intellitech is to provide intelligent technology solutions for business and educational institutions. Over the past 20 years, Intellitech has provided Software Development, Management/IT Consulting, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity and Consulting Services for organizations, banks and institutions including Liberty Mutual Insurance, Citizens Bank, TJX Companies, Staples and McCormick, to the Government of St. Lucia and Harvard University.
The company has weathered many storms and adjusted its services to meet the ever changing technology demands of the industry. Intellitech continues to grow its customer base in a market that demands effective computing via local/wide-area networking, custom software development database customization, Internet/Intranet services, and systems integration services.
Mr. Dowdie studied computer engineering at Boston University, with a successful track record working for organizations such as the Goddard Space Flight Center(NASA), Lotus Development Corporation, Wang, IBM, and MCI. Over time, that client base evolved to including major banks (Bank of Boston, USTrust, Citizens Bank), Insurance Companies (Liberty Mutual), Healthcare (University Hospitals of Cleveland, Hoffman LaRoche), Biotech (Genzyme) and Retail (Staples, TJ Maxx Companies) organizations. Intellitech has also developed a core vertical market software development team that designs industry specific web/mobile enabled solutions.
One such solution is BARBinc.com. This idea started in 2009 when Mr. Dowdie was frustrated with having to wait when he arrived at his barber for his scheduled appointment. It seemed that his barber had no tools for tracking or managing appointments, nor did he have a web presence. Given Mr. Dowdie’s background, he thought that maybe there was a way that technology could be used to address these issues. However, nothing really progressed with this kernel of an idea until 2011, when Mr Dowdie decided to make the idea a reality.
BARBinc.com was implemented as a Service (created and powered by Intellitech) which would provide Technology solutions for the Hair and Beauty Industry. In the space of a few years, BARBinc.com went from a simple idea to the #1 source of Barbering News and Information on the internet. In 2014, the BARBinc Newswire Service had a following of 19 people and a social media reach of less than 100. By 2017, it had over 50,000 followers and social media reach of over 30 Million. The industry specific services include online and mobile scheduling and shop management, a national directory of barbers/shops/salons/schools, a marketplace to buy and sell industy products, a mobile portal for news, information and event management with more services coming soon. BARBinc.com has customers from the National Association of Barber Boards of America to Bronner Brothers International Hair Show. BARBinc Educators include some of the top Trainers and Educators in the Industry. BARBinc Total Event solutions have been utilized to sell tickets and manage events for some of the biggest hair shows and barber battles in the industry.
Another Solution is BlackFacts.com. Blackfacts is the brain-child of longtime friend and collaborator Ken Granderson, and over the past 20 years it has been running and providing historical facts-of-the-day to our community. Mr. Dowdie was brought in early on to help husband the idea to the next level. However, for years the site remained just a source of black history facts, and in time it grew to be the #1 source for Black Facts on the internet. That all changed in 2017, as Mr. Dowdie and Mr. Granderson finally gave the project the focus it deserved and thus began the process of turning Blackfacts.com from just a historical reference site for Black History into the ‘Black Wikipedia’ and a showcase of the cultural contributions of people of color and a showcase of the type of technology solutions that can be provided by and to people of color. Those efforts can be seen in this, the latest evolution of BlackFacts.com. There is so much that can be done with the platform, and we hope that you stick around to enjoy the journey with us…
“We are here to alleviate any issue the client is having with new technology, whether that be training, web site development, or networking,” says Mr. Dowdie, who takes pride in understanding the delicate balance of working with people and technology. “Technology may be our future, but people are making the decisions on how it will best benefit their business needs. Our primary focus is to bridge the gap between technology advancement and realistic solutions for companies.”
As a leading edge business based in Boston, MA, Intellitech has a diverse staff of team members with the background and expertise to satisfy clients from around the world. “Human connection is not lost in the Internet, it is only expanded. Our solutions always keep that fact in mind and in the forefront of the minds of our customers.”