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‘Block Reportin’’: Storytelling the African way

April 15, 2011

Review by Terez McCall

At his book signing March 19 at Marcus Books in Oakland, Minister of Information JR autographs “Block Reportin’” for Laney College BSU member Tim Killings. – Photo: Reginald James, TheBlackHour.com
Minister of Information JR Valrey continues his work as a voice to inform and engage the people in his new book, “Block Reportin’.” In many ways, Valrey’s collection of captured conversations continues in the rich African oral tradition, passing on stories and information to us in the format of an interactive dialogue. These spoken, recorded truths have now been translated directly into the written word for greater accessibility.

The lineup alone is impressive, as a quick glance at the table of contents will illustrate. Interviewees range from Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, to former U.S. Congresswoman, presidential candidate and international peace ambassador Cynthia McKinney, to comedic legend Paul Mooney, to POCC Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., to political rapper M1 and many more.

Beyond that, this is a great read. There is plenty of revolutionary history stored within these pages, as well as riveting tales of intrigue, courage, conflict and redemption. Even the heartbreaking stories are educational, with the goal of shedding light on these atrocities and moving the people to take action.

Surprisingly, the author is not the dominant voice in the book. Instead, Valrey offers brief introductions that give a little context and then lets the interviewee speak for his or her self.

What I most enjoyed about this book was the very intimate perspective. I felt as if I were sitting in on conversations with people I both admire – such as Mumia Abu Jamal and Ericka Huggins – and despise – like Freeway Ricky Ross – people I might never meet myself.

This book offers something for everyone, a good feature for those who want to get into it, but might not be prepared right away for an especially sober or lengthy read. The way the chapters are designed is a great element, as you can read the book from cover to cover in a few sittings as I did or skip around to interviews of interest as time allows.

I felt as if I were sitting in on conversations with people I both admire – such as Mumia Abu Jamal and Ericka Huggins – and despise – like Freeway Ricky Ross – people I might never meet myself.

The chapters flow seamlessly between varied topics, always with the common theme of reporting to and for the Block. The scope of the book adds to this feeling and gives the reader a wide variety of content to choose from.

A political book, no doubt, “Block Reportin’” doesn’t limit itself to a single perspective, but rather examines every area of influence in Black life and culture. We hear from politicians, comedians, artists, community members, musicians, writers, activists, media makers and even successful drug kingpins. This last feature was incredible to me, as you have two very different examples to contrast in the same book.

I got a lot out of “Block Reportin’” and would defy anyone who reads it to claim they didn’t learn something new from this volume. This is definitely an educational yet entertaining read.

“Block Reportin’” will challenge what you think you know on a number of issues. Bonnie Williams, the ex-wife of Stanley Tookie Williams, sets the record straight on the family’s real supporters. Paul Cobb, colleague and friend of the late journalist Chauncey Bailey, shares insight into who he thinks is responsible for Bailey’s death.

Activist Kambale Musavulli tells us the truth about what’s going on in the Congo. Malik Yusef, the Wordsmith, gives the real deal on Kanye’s infamous statement on national television about George Bush. And these are but a few examples.

There is also a deeper humanity shown behind the personal commentary of Minister of Information JR with figures like Lil’ D, Gil Scott Heron, Emory Douglas and Pam Africa. Stories span the better part of a decade and function as a time capsule of sorts, offering a brief historical snapshot of some of our community’s living legends and seminal events.

The only critical point I can raise about the book is that I would have appreciated more words from the author, if only to illuminate its message further. While both the forward and the afterward explain the purpose of the Block Report succinctly, it seems that in 300 pages more than two might have been dedicated to that end.

Perhaps that was intentional. It’s quite possible that Valrey decided to let the book speak for itself as to what the Block Report is all about. Or maybe that in-depth look is being saved for another book?

In either case, I’m looking forward to “Block Reportin’” Part 2, which Valrey has said is forthcoming. I sincerely hope he sticks with this winning format and includes more compelling content from people of interest and importance in the Black and Brown community.

You can find “Block Reportin’” on sale now at many of your local independent booksellers, including Marcus Books in Oakland and San Francisco, Alexander Books in San Francisco, Laurel Bookstore in Oakland, Walden Pond Books in Oakland, Moe’s Books in Berkeley, Revolution Books in San Francisco, Rasputin’s and online at sfbayview.com.

Come out and support the MOI JR at “Block Reportin’” book readings and signings at Marcus Books in San Francisco, April 16, 4-6 p.m., and Alexander Books in San Francisco, April 22, 12:30-1:30 p.m. And of course, check out the Block Report at blockreportradio.com.

Terez McCall is editor in chief of the Laney Tower, the newspaper serving the Peralta College District. She can be reached at terezvm@gmail.com.

 

 

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