Passing the torch
Introduction by Mary Ratcliff
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, the first day of the historic National Prison Strike, Democracy Now interviewed Amani Sawari. I knew the name, because that’s who was sending a lot of the organizing info, though I’d assumed the coordinator of a nationwide strike would be a man. Democracy Now is the soundtrack at breakfast every day for Willie – Dr. Ratcliff – and me.
The segment began with an excellent interview with Cole Dorsey of IWOC (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee), and then suddenly the bright, brilliant, radiant face of 23-year-old Amani filled the screen and a voice of eloquence, inspiration and power filled the room. All it took was host Amy Goodman saying she’s a journalist, and, involuntarily, spontaneously, I pointed at the screen and shouted, “There’s the new Bay View editor!” Anyone who can do what she’s done – and is doing – for the strikers can do what I do.
All it took was host Amy Goodman saying she’s a journalist, and, involuntarily, spontaneously, I pointed at the screen and shouted, “There’s the new Bay View editor!”
Amani and I have been talking ever since, and she came to visit Oct. 8-12. What fun we had, but I’ll let her tell it (keep reading). A Detroit native, Amani currently lives in Seattle. To pass the torch, give the old folks, Dr. Willie Ratcliff and me, a break (we’ll stay involved) and bring her here, we’re raising the money through a crowd-funding site called Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/sfbayview. Please be as generous as you possibly can so she can join us SOON!
San Francisco, here I come!
by Amani Sawari, new Bay View editor
I am excited to step into this new role as editor of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. Please give me the opportunity to tell you about myself.
My interest in capturing history began in high school when I proudly took the position as historian for our class yearbook. That interest developed in college when my love of media spread across platforms into radio.
At the University of Washington (UW), I served as UWave Radio’s business director for one year focusing on building relationships with local businesses for underwriting. I was intrigued by the economic function that community building had for the media platform.
Before long I was elected as the station’s manager. In that role, I had the opportunity to develop skills negotiating with chief decision makers at the university in order to advocate for the students’ interests.
I managed UWave during the delicate time of our online station being awarded the opportunity to expand to a terrestrial FM broadcasting station. I led students in applying for grants, raising thousands of dollars in funding as well as consolidating a board of advisors for faculty support during our transition.
During my studies, I became more interested in activism after the horrific back-to-back state sanctioned murders of Black males in 2016. I realized that media representations of marginalized people play a huge role in how those groups are perceived by policymakers and their treatment in the criminal justice system.
In response, I launched sawarimi.org the summer after graduating with my bachelor’s degree with a double major in Media Communication Studies and Public Policy. SawariMi became the outlet through which I responded to the injustices that plague the Black community while growing an audience that appreciated my writing style.
Before long I was recruited by hurting families and others in need of a writer to appropriately tell their story. Later that fall (2016) I was recruited by a prisoner rights advocacy group to assist with their Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March.
In support of the march I wrote a story for the California Prison Focus newsletter as well as a monthly newsletter for prisoners to keep up to date on the events happening in support of the main march and the sister marches that were being organized around the country. I had the honor of speaking at the main march in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19, 2017.
More recently, during my work as the spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) for the National Prison Strike, I’ve been able to speak to more audiences about the desperately needed changes we must require our criminal justice system to make in order to protect the rights of incarcerated individuals.
As JLS spokesperson, I was interviewed on and promoted coverage by Democracy Now, Vox, The New York Times, Washington Post, London Guardian, NPR, BBC, USA Today, The Intercept and many other outlets. Thankfully the Ratcliffs’ introduction to me on Democracy Now encouraged them to invite me to San Francisco.
The recent trip invigorated me. I had the opportunity to meet some of the Bay View’s main players like veteran writers Wanda Sabir and JR Valrey and webmaster Kali O’Ray, as well as mailing volunteer Barry Hermanson, distribution head Dennis Webb and fundraiser Free Brown.
The most exciting part was having the opportunity to meet the local organizers who lifted heavy loads with me during the strike, such as Nube Brown of California Prison Focus (hear her Thursdays at 11 a.m. on KPOO 89.5FM or kpoo.com) and Bilal Mafundi Ali, Black Panther and leader in the Bay Area National Prison Strike Solidarity Committee. Massachusetts college professor and strong prisoner advocate Victor Wallis stopped by while on a book tour.
There’s nothing like sharing space with people you share passion with; likeminded activists, organizers, writers and abolitionists crossed my path during the few days that I spent brainstorming my possibilities in the Bay Area. Along with this, I was interviewed by Brother Leonard on the historic station, KPOO 85.9FM. (Listen to that show on Soundcloud here.)
I also surprisingly got a personal tour of City Hall where I sat in the presidential seat in the Board of Supervisors Chambers. I came to the Bay at the perfect time, having the chance to witness the free show, “Picture Bayview Hunters Point,” where I learned some of the beautiful history that created the newspaper’s home. San Francisco deeply impressed me.
Now that the national strike dates have passed and I’m back in Seattle, I continue to support prisoner led initiatives and work with the Ratcliffs remotely. I do this as well as work as a hair stylist while studying for a two-year degree in Ministry Leadership at Northwest University in Kirkland.
I’ve always gravitated toward print media because working with words is my gift. I enjoy using my words to support individuals who may have been silenced by forces beyond their control.
The Bay View newspaper does just that by publishing and circulating the experiences of those who may not have a way of spreading their story otherwise. I want to have the opportunity to expand the paper’s reach by working with the people on the ground, contributing to the work of the businesses and organizations in the Bay Area.
I want to do this while also collaborating with groups around the nation who share in the newspaper’s vision, a future of Black liberation and prison abolition. The Bay View has never been afraid to call out injustice, regardless of the status of the perpetrator.
It is a valuable newspaper that documents those histories that might not otherwise be told. The Bay View is a community in print, and I’m excited to be a part of strengthening and expanding this community.
Along with writing I also enjoy playing my acoustic guitar, singing and performing spoken word poetry. My vision for the Bay View is a thriving paper with a strong staff team dedicated to serving its readers and the nation through the content curated by the community it serves.
This is the Democracy Now segment, broadcast the first day of the National Prison Strike, Aug. 21, that introduced Amani Sawari to the Ratcliffs … and the world. She comes on at the 42 minute mark.