JR Valrey Discusses His Second Book, Unfinished Business: Block Reportin' 2

Posted by Billyjam, February 10, 2014 09:25am | Post a Comment

jr valreyOakland author JR Valrey has just published his powerful second book - Unfinished Business: Block Reportin 2. The author/journalist/broadcaster/activist who is also known as the People's Minister of Information will be doing two Bay Area book readings this month in celebration of this second publication in an ongoing series at both of the Bay Area branches of the wonderful Marcus Books: at the San Francisco Marcus Books (1712 Fillmore St.) on February 13th, and at the Oakland Marcus Books (3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way) on February 22nd.

Two years ago, during Black History Month 2012, JR Valrey acted as a guest Amoeblogger here and wrote an insightful piece titled The Black Experience Study Guide: My Top 7 Books, Movies, and Albums for Black History Month. That piece followed a profile/interview with Valrey from a couple of months earlier on the topic of his first book Block Reportin. This week I again caught up with the busy Oakland-based Valrey to talk about his latest book, its subjects, and some of the topics covered in it and his opinions on them.

Amoeblog: Is it fair to call Unfinished Business a sequel to / a continuation of your last book and does it continue that book's same format?

JR Valrey: I guess you can say that. The only continuity between Block Reportin" and Unfinished Business is that they are both books consisting of a compilation of interviews; interviews that I did as a print and broadcast journalist over the years.  The third installment of the series, which is yet to be named, will include 28 interviews so that the total number of interviews that I have put out in book form will number 100.

Amoeblog:  I see that among the interviews in your new book is one with Ryan Coogler whose film Fruitvale Station was an excellent moving portrayal of the story of Oscar Grant. What topics did you cover in relation to the film and Grant in your interview with the talented young Bay Area director?

JR Valrey: You said the word "excellent". I didn't like the movie. I think it tried to canonize Oscar Grant as some kind of Black leader, when in reality, he was a nameless Black man to most of us when he was killed. The movie failed to put police terrorism in a historical context or local context and refused to show what happened in the aftermath to his death. Many people have been killed by police in Oakland, but the numerous rebellions that followed this taped police murder, is what made Oakland ground zero in the fight against police terrorism in the nation. The movie did not portray this. Also personally speaking I would have like to see a character depicting Lovelle Mixon in the movie, be it that he killed four police officers before he was murdered two months after Oscar Grant.

Amoeblog: Coogler's film Fruitvale Station, when it was released last summer, did so around the time of George Zimmerman's acquittal and sparked many of the same debates on racism, and the killing of young black men in this country. Do you address these issues in the other interviews in your book?

JR Valrey: In Unfinished Business I cover police terrorism, but not on Black men. The interview that I did, was with Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was murdered by Detroit police who were filming a episode of a cop show when they busted in the wrong house, threw a flash grenade at the little girl and shot her to death, while she was waking up from sleeping on the couch. I wish I could act like this is an issue that just affects young Black men, but experience has taught me that it is not just us, but genocide is being imposed on the whole Black community, children, old folks, young Black men, and the like.

Amoeblog:  I see Mumia Abu-Jamal is included in the list of subjects interviewed in your new book. How was that experience of interviewing him and what insights did he share with you?

JR Valrey: Over the years, I have interviewed political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal a number of times. In "Unfinished Business", we talked about him being an innocent man locked up for over 30 years because of his political beliefs. He talked about how that feels. I thought that it was important because a lot of times my peers who are in their 30's, as well as younger people, have forgotten the blood, sweat, and tears of those who came before us, who paid with their lives so that we can enjoy the few luxuries that we have now. I plan to continue to bring up the names of forgotten freedom fighters that are locked behind enemy lines, people like Mutulu Shakur, Hugo Pinell, Ruchell Magee, Chip Fitzgerald, Albert Woodfox, Aaron Patterson, Herman Bell, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Oscar Romero, Leonard Peltier, Sekou Odinga, the Move 9, and more.

Amoeblog:  Another subject in the new book is Boots Riley of The Coup who was involved in the Occupy Movement. I read somewhere that you felt that the Occupy Movement was generally not inclusive enough of people of color. Would you like to speak on that?

JR Valrey: As I discussed in my debate with Boots in Unfinished Business, I thought that the Occupy Movement was a huge scam. Where is it now? Where's all of the people across the nation and the world that were camping out for weeks to change some of the ills in this society? Things are just as they were before the Occupy Movement. In my opinion, Boots had some romantic view of the Occupy Movement and the things that they claimed to be accomplishing in Oakland. They claimed to have a 1 day strike, then the mayor gave all city employees the day off. The strike was not extended. In facts, Boots and his Occupy comrades saw this as a victory when in reality it was a co-optation. Occupy Oakland claimed to take the Port of Oakland, but what really happened is that the mayor restrained the police, and the "takeover" turned into a one day parade to the port. If Occupy was going to take the port, then some demands should have been announced and the occupiers should have stayed until they were met. That is how change happens in other nations.

Historically speaking, I have never heard of people ending oppression through parades. These were two of the criticisms that I made in the debate. The main issue that I saw with racism is the fact that the U.S. is still a racist society, and that if you are trying to make the 99% into a fighting force than you have to re-educate the people with in the movement about their superiority and inferiority complexes. There was no political education process within that movement, and I thought that it was naive of seasoned activist like Boots and others to act like people would become truly politicized through osmosis. Years later I recognize that the moment was not about the same thing for everybody, I wanted issues in my community to be addressed while others may have been trying to sell records. 

Amoeblog:  Comedian, writer, satirist Paul Mooney is another subject of yours. I love him and have long felt that his honesty and blunt outspokenness has stopped him from being a mainstream star. What do you think?

JR Valrey: I totally agree. His politics, in my opinion, make people, who identify with the status quo, uncomfortable. You never know what the hell he is about to say. When I interviewed him for Unfinished Business, he was on a comedy tour that he named Black is the New White. He offered some comic relief in the book, because every other interview is serious. Many people do not know that Mooney co-wrote a lot of Richard Pryor's funniest material, as well as he is also featured in my first book, Block Reportin.

Amoeblog: Can you tell me a bit about Sierra McClain who did your intro and why you invited her to do so?

JR Valrey: Sierra McClain is a writer that I met in Oakland, and worked with a number of times in Houston where she now resides. She specializes in writing about Black Rock. Last time I was in Houston, with the late Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, we were impressed by an interview that she did with the both of us. After reading a few more pieces that she wrote, I decided that I wanted her to write the forward for my new book if she was up to it. She felt honored that I asked her, and I was totally satisfied with what she wrote. Be on the look out for her as an entertainment writer.

Amoeblog: What can people expect at your two book readings this month at Marcus Books?

JR Valrey: People can expect for me to read few brief selections from Unfinished Business, and I am down to answer any questions that people might have about the people I have interviewed, or the subjects in which I chose to cover in the book. On Feb. 13th at 6:30pm, at Marcus Books in San Francisco, I will be joined by the legendary screenwriter of Richard Pryor's Which Way is Up and the author of Pryor Lives: Kiss My Happy Rich Black Ass, Cecil Brown. It is possible that M-1 of dead prez, who I interviewed in the book, may come to the Feb. 22nd Marcus Books in Oakland reading, but it has not been confirmed.

Amoeblog: Anything to add?

JR Valrey: Yes. Unfinished Business:Block Reportin 2 and Block Reportin', are ground-breaking works because I interviewed people in both books that are news and history makers in the Black community. There are interview books by entities like Toure and Playboy, that include Black people but the difference between what they did and what I did is that you don't have to be a corporate-America-made star to be in my books. I just have to see the importance and uniqueness of your actions and thoughts. You can check out more of my work at Thank you Billy Jam for the interview, I really appreciate it.

JR Valrey will be reading from his new book at Marcus Books in San Francisco, at 1712 Fillmore St., on Thursday February 13th, and at the Oakland Marcus Books, at 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, on Saturday February 22nd.

Relevant Tags

Block Reportin (1), Boots Riley (15), Black History Month (135), Black History Month Amoeblog (4), Paul Mooney (1), Aiyana Jones (1), Mumia Abu-jamal (1), Aiyana Jones & Detroit Police Department (1), Occupy Movement (1), Unfinished Business Block Reportin 2 (1), Jr Valrey (3), Block Reportin 2 (1), Black History Month 2014 (6), Marcus Books (1), The Coup (26)