In East Oakland, JR Valrey teaches youth to use media against the system

Weaponization-of-Media-class-at-the-Bay-View-by-Griffin-110222-1400x1050, <strong>In East Oakland, JR Valrey teaches youth to use media against the system</strong>, Culture Currents Local News & Views News & Views
Look at those smiles! The beauty and creative energy generated when adults show up with their talents, experience and wisdom to pass on to the next generation can not be understated. Left to right: JR Valrey, Ahmilah Abrams, Nube Brown, Laila McDaniel, William Palmer and Rodney Horne. – Photo: Griffin Jones

by Bay View staff

On a sunny Bayview Wednesday in early November, journalist JR Valrey and several students from his Weaponization of Media class at EOYDC (East Oakland Youth Development Center), Laila (11), Ahmilah (12) and Rodney (staff) packed into a car donated by Steph Curry – go Warriors! – and made the trek across the Bay Bridge from East Oakland to Bay View HQ. They came just in time for November’s Mailing Day, a monthly tradition where staff and volunteers label and pack up 3,000 print papers to be sent out to subscribers all over the country and overseas, including prisoners.

JR, a longtime writer with the Bay View and leader of the SF Bay View Oakland Bureau, led the kids up into the bustling home office packed with six-foot high stacks of papers and ready-to-mail bags lining the stairs. They first stopped in the kitchen to greet the Ratcliffs and Barry, a volunteer, then walked down the hall to the editorial office where Prisoner Human Rights Editor Nube Brown, Editor in Chief William Palmer and Copydesk Chief Griffin Jones were working. 

Nube-Ahmilah-and-Laila-at-the-Bay-View-Weaponization-of-Media-class-by-JR-110222JPG, <strong>In East Oakland, JR Valrey teaches youth to use media against the system</strong>, Culture Currents Local News & Views News & Views
What a joy to have two young people, Laila (11 R) and Ahmilah (12 L) so fully engaged in hearing the creative process of bringing a newspaper from content to print. – Photo: JR Valrey

In time, Ahmilah and Laila jumped in, sitting down to put address labels on quarter-folded papers and file them into bags. Nube and JR shared a big hug and launched into a rich conversation, talking with the young visitors about what it takes to run a nationally-distributed Black paper and learning what the Weaponization of Media class is all about. Here’s what they had to say.

Bay View: What does the Weaponization of Media class mean to you?

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Laila McDaniel, 6th grader at Elmhurst Junior High, 11 years old: I learned about when WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner was put in jail for breaking Russian law, that says no vaping. I thought that this story was important because she probably didn’t know what she was doing was against the law. 

Ahmilah Abrams, 7th grader at Elmhurst Junior High, 12 years old: Media class is important and means a lot to me because it teaches us about current events happening in the world, and we are learning about what’s good and bad about the media. We also go on fieldtrips and stuff, to learn about Black owned businesses and how they started and Black media. 

Nube-and-Laila-at-Bay-View-by-JR-110222, <strong>In East Oakland, JR Valrey teaches youth to use media against the system</strong>, Culture Currents Local News & Views News & Views
Laila, right, a developing artist, points to an example of artwork by prisoner Kevin “Rashid” Johnson. Prisoner Human Rights Editor Nube Brown shared with Laila the importance of artwork and its impact on any given story. Laila shared with Nube some examples of her work, and we look forward to seeing it in the newspaper, along with some stories from the class, in the very near future. – Photo: JR Valrey

I also learned a lot about the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and how you have to be able to grab the readers’ attention.

Bay View: Do you see your story or one like yours in a print newspaper somewhere?

Ahmilah Abrams, 7th grader at Elmhurst Junior High, 12 years old: I don’t think that my story will be in the newspaper, because it is about a zombie attack in Oakland, and it is not real. Also, I am not finished. I wrote about zombies in Oakland because it was a project for an English class. 

Bay View: JR, what is the Weaponization of Media class about? What does that mean?

JR Valrey: The Weaponization of Media class is about studying how the media has been weaponized against the Black community since the beginning of this country, as well as we study how heroes and sheroes in the Black community have used the media against the system, such as people like Muhammad Ali, Kyrie Irving, Kanye West, Dave Chapelle, the Black Panthers, Mumia Abu-Jamal, the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper and more. 

Bay View: Why do you feel it’s important?

JR Valrey: It is very important for Black youth, in particular, to understand how powerful a weapon the media is, and the power that it has over people’s psychology. Once we understand how powerful a tool and weapon the media has been and is, then we can start to make media that serves our community’s interest, instead of it always being used against us. 

Nube-and-Laila-mailing-at-Bay-View-by-JR-110222, <strong>In East Oakland, JR Valrey teaches youth to use media against the system</strong>, Culture Currents Local News & Views News & Views
While Nube and Laila are labeling some of the 3,000 papers that get sent all over the country, internationally and into prisons, Leila shares that her family once owned a bakery that they hope to reopen – perhaps Laila will design their new logo! – Photo: JR Valrey

Also I have been a journalist for over 25 years, although I have no plans to quit any time soon, I feel like I have to complete the circle of Black journalism and create more Black media-makers; many people such as Kevin Weston, Willie Ratcliff, Mary Ratcliff, Davey D, Deverol Ross, Charles Jones, Malcolm Marshall, Ri’Chard Magee and Anita Johnson played a huge part in making me into a journalist. I have to return the favor to younger aspiring media makers, and this class is the platform in which I am doing that.

Bay View: How does your work relate to East Oakland?

JR Valrey: My work is based in East Oakland at the East Oakland Youth Development Center in the heart of the hood, where my family grew up. It is important for me to help to develop the youth in our neighborhood, because the public school system and the government does not invest adequately into their futures, and if I can just impart on them a little bit of information that helps them to have more confidence in themselves, helps them to think critically about current events and take pride in their people and in their community, then I am building a future fighting force to help defend our community. 

Bay View: Do you see this work relating to or affecting other communities around the Bay?

JR Valrey: I definitely need help finding more locations around San Francisco and the East Bay where I can teach my Weaponization of Media class. At this time, it is just based in-person at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, in the future I plan to teach it virtually also. 

To answer the question: Middle school children in this area are victims of gentrification in this community just like their parents, so I am not under the impression that the youth I teach will remain in the area because times are economically hard, and people in my community are struggling to survive as inflation rises, schools close and crime rises. 

EOYDC-Weaponization-of-Media-class-with-JR-Valrey-1122-1400x1050, <strong>In East Oakland, JR Valrey teaches youth to use media against the system</strong>, Culture Currents Local News & Views News & Views
The full Weaponization of Media class at their home base at East Oakland Youth Development Center. – Photo: EOYDC

So, the more Black youth I can politically educate and turn into media makers, the more journalists we will have in the greater Black community working in our interest. I look at myself as somebody who is exporting a revolutionary community mindstate to youth, not knowing how it’s going to develop. 

Black youth are more intelligent than they are given credit for, so I just think that I have to start them in the right direction, and even without a lot of guidance after the class is over, they will continue to follow the path, because I am giving them a knowledge of self and the Black political eye to examine how the world is dealing with them and our Black community. 

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau and is founder of his latest project, the Ministry of Information Podcast. He can be reached at and on Facebook and Instagram