Many in the Bay Area already know radio & print journalist JR Valrey from his tireless work with both KPFA radio and the Bay View newspaper in San Francisco but others beyond the Bay have also been finding out about him in recent months courtesy of his book Block Reportin'
Valrey's 300+ page book features an impressive array of interviews with such subjects as Paul Mooney, Gil Scott Heron, Umar Bin Hasan, Cynthia McKinney Lil D, Mos Def, and Freeway Ricky Ross.
These engaging interviews, like Valrey's radio show which is accurately described as being "pertinent to the survival of Black and Brown oppressed people," were culled from KPFA broadcasts by Valrey who has worked at the Pacifica station for a decade.
Recently I caught up with Valrey to ask him about his work with KPFA, the content of his book Block Reportin', and various other topics that the scholar spends time researching and presenting for his listeners/readers.
Amoeblog: For those who may know little about you can you break down your role in the community and your personal history - things like KPFA and Bay View newspaper?
JR Valrey: I am a journalist from East Oakland California, who specializes in radio, print, journalism, and overtly fights for what I believe in. In my teenage years I was fortunate enough to meet other journalists who stood for something that helped me learn my craft, as well as they debated with me about how I saw the world; people like Davey D, Kevin Weston, Malcolm Marshall, Dev Ross, Ri'Chard Magee, Anita Johnson, and yourself among others. About ten years ago, I started working with the San Francisco Bay View New, a national Black newspaper based in the Hunter's Point district, the biggest Black community in the city. I gradually worked my way up from writer, to additionally being the main photographer, to the Associate Editor. The one-time weekly turned monthly shrunk, so my work load was sliced, but I still contribute regularly to this newspaper.
I learned how to do radio as an intern of Davey D, and also as a participant at Youth Radio, which was based next door to 94.1FM KPFA. Years later, because of my stories in the SF Bay View, I was invited to become a semi-regular producer on KPFA's Hard Knock Radio, a hip-hop public affairs show. KPFA's Flash Points producers were so impressed with my work that they offered me airtime on KPFA's premier investigative journalism show. One thing led to another and my work began to be heard around the clock on KPFA shows like La Onda Bajita, First Voice, La Raza Chronicles, Transitions on Traditions, and Side Show Radio. Now I produce and host the Wednesday edition of the Morning Mix on KPFA, which airs from 8-9am, and the Block Report Radio Music show on Friday nights/Saturday Morning from 12-2am.
To sum up my role in the community, I see myself as the next Ida B. Wells, Jose Marti, or Ruben Salazar. I fight for human rights and I do not claim to be unbiased. In fact I don't believe that there is a such thing as being un-biased reporting. But that's a whole 'nother story.
Amoeblog: Can you additionally and explain what exactly the POCC is and what your role is as its Minister of Information?
JR Valrey: The Prisoners of Conscience Committee was an organization that I was the Minister of Information for, until a few months ago. Today, instead of repping for one organization, I am the People's Minister of Information, and what that means is that it is my responsibility to administer useful information that can better the conditions of our lives. Check out my work at www.blockreportradio.com for a more extensive answer.
Amoeblog: Who are some of the most important voices interviewed for your book and why?
JR Valrey: I thought that all of the 31 voices featured in "Block Reportin" were important for one reason or another. For example, it was important for me to talk to the CIA financier Freeway Ricky Ross so that it could come out of his mouth that he worked for the government selling drugs in the Los Angeles Black community. I also talked to rapper Mos Def about getting arrested at the Video Music Awards, on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The ex-wife of Tookie Williams, who was executed at San Quentin spoke for the first time in the exclusive interview I did with her. Umar Bin Hasan of the Last Poets talked about the relationship that Malcolm X had to jazz, and the revolutionary musical politics of John Coltrane. Legendary comedian Paul Mooney talked about the history and politics of Black comedy in the U.S. and more.
Amoeblog: In your book presentation you say that Block Reportin is a "sample of literary and radio broadcasting that is changing the way that society looks at the news and the way that media is created." Can you further explain what exactly you mean by this statement and why?
JR Valrey: I said that because all of the interviews featured in the book were either interviews that were broadcasted on Block Report Radio or published in the SF Bay View Newspaper, and they are interviews with controversial people in the Black community as well as in the history of the United States. We talking about topics that aren't ordinarily discussed in public, let alone in the media. My journalism is raw, uncut, grassroots, ghetto, and anti-corporate.
Amoeblog: Your book's timeframe includes the age of America's first Black president. How do you think the Black community's view of Obama from the beginning of his presidency to now has changed?
JR Valrey: The Black community is not a homogenous community when it comes to politics. Many of us, haven't changed our views of Obama. We always knew he was the overseer of the American empire, which means that he is the puppet for corporate America. How did mainstream Black people feel? I liken it to the euphoria around Jim Jones and the People's Temple, or even more recently the Occupy Movement, where people are scared to ask relevant questions so that we can better define what we are dealing with. Anybody with an elementary education in how capital runs the world would not have been surprised by Obama. What do we expect, he is a missile -dealing, slavery sanction good ole US president like the rest of them.
Amoeblog: You interview Mumia Abu Jamal in the book. Does it surprise you that he is still incarcerated and if he were white would he have gotten the same treatment by the legal system do you think?
JR Valrey: In one sense it surprises me that all the evidence in the trial points to Mumia's innocence, and in this case that is being watched internationally, he is still blatantly locked up because of his past political and journalistic work. On another end, it doesn't surprise me, because Mumia was a Black Panther, and comes from a line of Black freedom fighters in this country that includes George Jackson, Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, and others; all of them were assassinated.
Would he be there if he was white? I doubt it. White prisoners, including political prisoners seem to get out like Sylvia Barldini, Laura Whitehorn, and Marilyn Buck. Black political prisoners like Mumia, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, Mutulu Shakur, Veronza Bowers, Aaron Patterson, Sekou Odinga, Hugo Pinell, Ruchell Magee seem to never get released, even if they max out.
Amoeblog: You cover a lot of ground in your book including a chapter on the war in Congo containing an interview spokesman for friends of the Congo Kambale Musavulli. Who do you hope will read such chapters and what would you like to accomplish by the exposure to this information?
JR Valrey: I hope to reach the reading public. We all have cell phones, laptops, PS3's and all kinds of other electronic stuff that uses the mineral coltan to operate. 80% of all of the coltan found in the world is located in the Congo, and there has been a war going on over in the heart of Africa, sponsored by the America and other industrial powers. 6 million lives have already been extinguished as a direct result of this mineral war. I hope to inform all the people that read it to play a part in helping to stop the imperialist ventures in the Congo and in general. And I would like to see the criminals that are responsible punished.
Amoeblog: What sort of feedback have you gotten from you book so far?
JR Valrey: People, from all walks of life have been amazingly receptive. My first book reading in Oakland was filled to capacity. I've went on to do book readings in Houston, Dallas, Portland, Seattle, Memphis, San Diego, LA, NYC, D.C., Philly, and other places. I'm getting ready to go to Georgia and Florida with my comrade who I've been touring with, Hajj Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X.
Amoeblog: What is the next book you are about to publish and what can people expect from it.
JR Valrey: I'm currently putting the finishing touches on my next book called Unfinished Business, which is like a part 2 to Block Reportin'. It consists of interviews with people like Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, internationally renowned writer Sanyika Shakur, and political prisoner and author Eddie Conway. It will also feature editorials that I wrote on topics like being in Libya three weeks before the Nato bombing, my thoughts on the Oscar Grant and Occupy Movements, and more. It will also feature a few reviews of books and documentaries that I thought were interesting.
Amoeblog: Anything to add?
JR Valrey: You can catch me on the web at Block Report Radio.com, and you can catch me on the radio in Northern Cali every Wednesday from 8-9am on 94.1FM KPFA, or in Central Cali 88.1fm KFCF, or on Fridays from 12-2am. Thank you for the interview.