by James Kilgore

“(H)eir apparent to the editor’s desk at the Bay View, Amani Sawari … carries an optimism and a vision that us OGs can’t touch. As she put it, ‘Lots of people think a newspaper is a dying form … but a newspaper adds more life and value to stories especially for people who don’t have access to the Internet.’ … I hope everyone who has known and loved the SF Bay View over its 42-year history will lend their support to Amani and the revitalization of the paper. As Amani told me, ‘The paper is reflection of us … If the paper is thriving, we are thriving.’” – James Kilgore

I first landed in the federal prison system in the early 2000s after living in Africa for nearly 20 years as a fugitive. Not long after I arrived, someone handed me a copy of the San Francisco Bay View. I’d never heard of it. The front page seemed very tightly packed-like they had too much news and not enough funds to make the print and photos large enough to engage the reader.

Then I perused the stories and realized that, small print and all, I had been given something very special. This was a paper that pulled no punches, that not only spoke truth to power but seemed willing to support those who confronted power head on.

Over the next six years as I tracked through the prison system, the SF Bay View followed me. It helped me unpack the horrors of gentrification in San Francisco, of the efforts by the supervisors to spend more money on jail building and the ways the community fought back. But the Bay View ultimately won my heart by providing coverage and personalized stories about the ultimately futile attempts by the state to frame the San Francisco 8 for a 1971 police murder.

Fast forward to 2018. Newspapers are going out of fashion. What could possibly revive a paper with a fearless voice and shaky financial foundation, a one-of-a-kind newspaper like the SF Bay View? The answer is simple: youthful energy and commitment. Enter the now heir apparent to the editor’s desk at the Bay View, Amani Sawari. She emerged out of student radio and journalism into the most unlikely position: official spokesperson for the prison labor strike of 2018. The strike organizers inside the prisons, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, chose her.

What could possibly revive a paper with a fearless voice and shaky financial foundation, a one-of-a-kind newspaper like the SF Bay View? The answer is simple: youthful energy and commitment.

I admit the first time I saw Amani I was puzzled. I expected a real prison veteran to occupy that spokesperson position – someone with the kind of street cred that only comes from doing time and wearing the political and emotional scars. This woman looked young enough to be a granddaughter of some of our political prisoners. How had she ended up there?

Rather than pass judgement, I background checked Amani. Her legitimacy came from her political raps and her role in organizing the Millions for Prisoners March. It really didn’t seem good enough. Had JLS lost their minds?

Then I watched Amani in action, listened to her interviews, even interviewed her a couple times myself. My skepticism vanished. She revealed an energy, optimism and rigor that convinced me JLS had made a wonderful choice.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I found out that the SF Bay View was lining up Amani as their next editor. The Bay View, for all its strengths, still has a 20th century feel. Amani brings a 21st century sensibility to this task.

I watched Amani in action, listened to her interviews, even interviewed her a couple times myself. My skepticism vanished. She revealed an energy, optimism and rigor that convinced me JLS had made a wonderful choice.

Unlike those of us from my generation who bemoan the passing of newspapers, Amani is discovering them – realizing they have a power, that there is a seduction and intellectual power in holding something with a different texture than an iPhone of whatever iteration. In my interview with her, she called the SF Bay View “the community in print.” I loved that.

In a time when the trumpets of fascism are blowing loud, those of us who have been on the frontlines need to stand strong – at the back. We can’t lead this fight. We need the energy, the insight, the fresh face and perspectives of the Amani Sawaris to step up.

We can throw some advice their way but after speaking with her, I know she carries an optimism and a vision that us OGs can’t touch. As she put it, “Lots of people think a newspaper is a dying form … but a newspaper adds more life and value to stories especially for people who don’t have access to the Internet.” She stresses that she wants to demonstrate to young people that “a newspaper is a valid resource for entertainment and informing people.”

In a time when the trumpets of fascism are blowing loud, those of us who have been on the frontlines need to stand strong – at the back. We can’t lead this fight. We need the energy, the insight, the fresh face and perspectives of the Amani Sawaris to step up.

I hope everyone who has known and loved the SF Bay View over its 42-year history will lend their support to Amani and the revitalization of the paper. As Amani told me, “The paper is reflection of us … If the paper is thriving, we are thriving.” In times like, we definitely need to thrive.

James Kilgore is an activist, researcher and writer based in Urbana, Illinois. He is co-director of FirstFollowers Reentry Program and the author of five books, including “Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time.” He is also the director of the Challenging E-Carceration project, which focuses on the use of electronic monitoring in the criminal legal system. Follow him on Twitter: @waazn1.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I hope everyone who has known and loved the SF Bay View over its 42-year history will lend their support to Amani and the revitalization of the paper. As Amani told me, “The paper is reflection of us.
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