by Terez McCall
Bay Area journalist JR Valrey has established a reputation by speaking truth to the people through his articles and radio shows. Known as the Minister of Information, his work is dedicated to informing and educating Black and Brown people, promoting local political artists and sharing vital news about the struggle against oppression across the country. In addition to publishing articles in the SF Bay View, he is also the voice behind Block Report Radio on KPFA.
JR’s work is critical because he not only addresses issues of importance to our communities but, throughout, he remains accessible and is known as a hero to people of all walks of life for his uncompromising commitment to justice in the face of extreme opposition.
The controversial writer took time to talk about his views on journalism, the recently reported conflict in Libya, and why you need to read his new book, “Block Reportin’.” Here he is in this exclusive Q and A.
Q: First off, let me begin by saying “Congratulations.” This is your first book after more than a decade as a radio and print journalist, filmmaker and political organizer. What prompted you to add “author” to that list, and why did you decide to put out your book now?
A: Thank you for opening this platform up to me. Being an author is a natural progression from being a journalist. I needed to find a way to repackage my interviews with a lot of freedom fighters, movers and shakers, cultural workers and artists after they aired on Block Report Radio or were published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. These interviews are time capsules of history that document past and present events and campaigns. It is important for us to preserve this knowledge and experiences so that we may one day learn from it and avoid the pitfalls of people who walked these various roads before us.
Also, journalists that speak the raw truth from the perspective of inner-city Black communities seem not to get a lot of high paying jobs. No one wants to pay for Black media that supports the Black community, because if the masses of Black people wake up, then people outside of our community who exploit us wouldn’t have a job.
So I figured I’d take my destiny in my own hands, come out with a book of some of my most famous and infamous articles, and present them to the people without a middle man. I hope to serve as an example to the people in our community to believe in themselves and go into business for themselves instead of serving somebody else’s agenda. Why now? Why not.
Q: For those readers who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe “Block Reportin’”? Why is this a must-read, and what do you want people to take away from it?
A: It is a must-read because it contains interviews with people who are of great interest to the progression of humanity, people like Black Panther political prisoner and internationally known journalist Mumia Abu Jamal, Hip Hop legend and actor Mos Def, former presidential candidate and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former Oakland drug dealer Lil’ D, comedian Paul Mooney, jazz legend Gil Scott Heron, as well as Umar Bin Hasan of the Last Poets and many more.
The people I interviewed talked about a myriad of things from protesting what happened with Hurricane America (which some called Hurricane Katrina), to M1 of the rap group dead prez talking about his 24-hour trip to Gaza, to former Black Panther Ericka Huggins talking about the revolutionary educational curriculum that the Panthers taught at the Oakland Community School, to Jack Bryson talking about the police murder of Oscar Grant, to Yusef Bey IV talking about being criminalized in the media. So as you can see we covered a whole gambit of issues and topics and these are just a few of them.
There are 31 interviews overall. What I want people to take away from it is the fact that there is a big gap between what is going on in the world and what is being reported. I want to inspire people to become their own media and to truly speak on behalf of the people. I want Black people to constantly be putting their theory and practice to work.
Q: What do you feel is distinct about The Block Report from other local news publications?
A: What is distinct is that we undoubtedly and uninhibitedly serve the inner-city Black and Brown community with information that we could organize around, whether it is on a local level like the issue of the police killing Raheim Brown and Oscar Grant or even international level like the movement to get the sanctions lifted off of Zimbabwe or to stop the war in the Congo, where 6 million Africans have already died. There is a not another radio show, television show or publication that promotes this type of information in this market and there are very few in the country and the world.
Secondly, we promote journalism that is accountable to the inner-city and other people at the bottom of the economic, political and social worlds. We inspire, encourage and cultivate these types of media-makers. We help them to make money in a journalism world, where almost everybody else is a talking head for the corporate white power system that is paying them directly or indirectly.
Q: Why is this a necessary outlet for our community, and where do you see it going next?
A: It is necessary because we have to control the media in our community so that we will be the definers of what is happening to us. Otherwise, our people will be blind to things like NATO plotting to overthrow Libya for its oil and defiance to American and European domination.
People are victims of CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC and Democracy Now. Most people think that the battle over in North Africa is about freedom rather than imperial powers stealing resources from Africans. My question to them is why is there such an interest in Libya and innocent people’s lives when these same networks are continuing to play a part in the murder of over 6 million Africans in the Congo so that people in the Western world could have cheap laptops, iPads and PS3s?
Where are we going next? We are going to wherever our people are, whether they are in Oakland or New Orleans or Paris or Rio or Tripoli.
Q: How did you choose these out of the many interviews you have done to date? Is there a particular reason you opened with Lil’ D or closed with Harold Taylor?
A: I chose these interviews for “Block Reportin’” because these were some of my favorite as well as most controversial interviews. Most people don’t know the story behind what happened with Kanye West saying “Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” It’s in the book.
Most people don’t know that Cynthia McKinney was kidnapped for seven days by the Israeli military and held in prison in a country that she didn’t originally come to. It’s in the book. Most people don’t know about the family of El Hajj Malik Shabazz aka Malcolm X. Most people have never heard Paul Mooney on the history of Black comedy in this country.
We opened with Lil’ D and closed with Harold Taylor because the streets, and I really should say America, is addicted to sex, money and murder. That is what Lil’ D had and what his is paying dearly for. He describes his redemption from being one of Oakland’s biggest drug dealers to being a dad who had been in jail for decades trying his best to raise his children through the bars.
That interview was to bring in the unpoliticized people who happen to open this book. Huey used to say that a freedom fighter “has to capture the imagination of the people.” We ended with Harold Taylor because it shows how the U.S. government has been honing its overseas torture tactics right here in our community.
If somebody reads the book all the way through, by the time they get to the Harold Taylor talking about being tortured, they should have an understanding of the war against the Black community and to what levels this country would go to oppress us. I think that this interview was the best interview to leave the reader with when they finished the book, because it is a war going on, and at this point Black people, Africans all around the world, are not fighting back.
Q: You reference in the book’s foreword your own unique, “non-orthodox” style of journalism. Would you elaborate on this and its significance for our Black and Brown communities?
A: I write for the inner-city, ghetto dwellers, prisoners, people on the reservations and the oppressed in general because that is who I identify with. These people are me or literally my family members or close friends. That alone dictates my style.
I write with slang. I may occasionally curse during the interview also because I believe that is how we get information on the most basic level in our communities. We don’t use the Queen’s English when we are talking to our comrades, family and friends. We talk in a familiar way, and that is how I communicate with my community, because the objective is not to get into a white colonial school; it is to communicate in the most efficient way so that people would want to get involved.
This is different from mainstream media and most alternative media because in a lot of cases they want to be validated by the journalism establishment, the establishment nonetheless. I don’t care about that. I want to be respected by the people that I live, work and grew up around, and that is low income or no income Black and Brown people.
Also I like to let the interviewees talk uninterrupted. I hate when I read an article about somebody and the writer inserts their thoughts, comments and interpretations about the subject in between quotes. I’m not with that egotistical style of journalism. There is a time and a place for it, like when you don’t have a lot of quoted material to work with or to put things in their proper context, but beyond that I think that writer is trying to show their importance. I write the way I do, consciously.
Q: Is there anyone you haven’t yet had the chance to interview but want to? Who would it be, and why?
A: I want to interview Winnie Mandela and Assata Shakur the most because they are two of my biggest sheroes. I respect them highly because of their contributions to the struggle of African people worldwide. Both of them have amazing stories.
I would also like to interview President Aristide, Fidel Castro and founder and president of the African Union Muammar Gaddafi, because I have an immense amount of admiration and respect for what they were able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time in their respective countries. I respect their contributions to the struggles of African people worldwide also. Culturally speaking, I want to interview the controversial Lauryn Hill and the elusive Sade.
Q: “Block Reportin’” features an impressive array of talent, presence, power and infamy. How did you gain such a level of influence and trust with these history-makers and celebrities?
A: I believe my work speaks for itself. These people know I speak for the masses and lower classes. I have a track record of fighting for the people at the bottom who don’t have a voice or someone to speak for them. A majority of the people featured know of my work, so they come holler at me.
I have a different relationships with everybody featured. Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets is my folks; M1 of dead prez is my big bruh and comrade; young Malcolm is my close comrade; Franco, Jack Bryson and Kambale are also. At one point Paul Cobb was a friend.
Cynthia McKinney, Mumia Abu Jamal and Pam Africa are some of my elder comrades. Emory, Umar, Ericka Huggins are also some of my elders that I respect. I don’t know Freeway Ricky Ross or Gil Scott Heron that well.
Pierre Labossiere is somebody who I have a lot of respect for in the Bay. I met the Radio Zurda people in El Salvador. Rob Redding was someone who I worked with in the media and that I would consider a friend and so on.
Q: What are you currently working on? Do you have any new projects in the works? How can we be in touch with you and stay informed?
A: I’m working on a whole lot. I just got back from the Pan African Film Festival, where me and Adimu Madyun’s documentary about the police terrorism and the people fighting back screened. It’s called “Operation Small Axe.” We’re still touring with that.
Simultaneously, I’m touring with my new book, “Block Reportin’” around the country. Locally, I will be at Marcus Books in Oakland doing a signing on Saturday, March 19, at 6:30 p.m. And I will be at Alexander Books in San Francisco on April 22 at 12 p.m.
If you are interested in organizing a book signing or movie showing, you could hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m still always recording for Block Report Radio, always updating the blockreportradio.com site and still always writing for sfbayview.com.
And when I’m not doing that, I’m working with young Malcolm or M1 and sometimes Cynthia on their speaking tours. Malcolm is on a national speaking tour talking about his life and his recent trip on Hajj and his trip to Africa. M1 is scheduled to be speaking on the West Coast about lifting the sanctions on Cuba and Zimbabwe in late April.
And I’m also putting the pieces together for “Block Reportin’ 2.”
“Block Reportin’” is available in stores now at Marcus Books in Oakland and San Francisco, Alexander Books in San Francisco, Rasputin’s, Laurel Bookstore in Oakland and online at blockreportradio.com. Contact the author at email@example.com.