Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Last month, Houston had the honor of welcoming two young radicals at the forefront of the conscious revolution taking place among progressive minds. JR Valrey is a well-known author, activist and journalist from Oakland, California. His first book, Block Reportin, chronicles several years worth of interviews with notables in entertainment, politics and beyond. Beyond simple conversations, the book documents some of the most significant cultural events to take place in the new millenium to date in the words of individuals whose lives are now or have been directly affected by their outcomes. From the 2009 police murder of Oscar Grant to the so-called "legal" execution of Stan "Tookie" Williams, JR's brand of unapologetically honest journalism, as demonstrated on the pages of Block Reportin, speaks straight to the heart of the issues behind the headlines and clearly illustrates why he is aptly named the People's Minister of Information.

There are few men who have walked this earth and left such a lasting impression that their names evoke respect internationally from men and women of all walks of life, age group and racial identity. The late, great Malcolm X was a peace maker and revolutionary thinker who ushered the consciousness of an entire nation, and yes, even the world into a new era of healing our racial, social and political wounds. He has been and will always be remembered as one of the greatest leaders our people have ever known, period.  Hajj Malcolm El Shabazz was born nearly twenty years after the assassination of his grandfather. Many would hide in the shadow of such a great man, but Hajj Malcolm has become a force within his own rite. He has experienced more in just shy of 3 decades, than many twice his senior. He lives, not only to tell of it, but to inspire others by what he has done and learned since then. 
JR and Hajj Malcolm have been traveling around the country together on a speaking tour, sharing their experiences and insight into issues affecting the people of the world today with audiences large and small. Their stop in Houston marked an historic occasion for the Bayou City, as we celebrated both leadership and legacy in these two young visionaries.

Both: Tell us a little about the tour. Where have you been so far? Any memorable experiences? Did you ever dream of traveling the world and touching the lives of so many?

JR: On this particular leg of the tour, we have traveled throughout the state of Texas over the last two weeks. We spent time speaking at schools, community centers, and bookstores pushing our people to get organized, and to work together. The most memorable things for me about this tour were some of the old colorful personalities that I reconnected with, as well as the new people I met. In Houston, you and me had some time to discuss media among other things, we met the Black rockers from Peekaboo Theory, in Austin my longtime Oakland homie who recently moved, rapper Queen Deelah, came out. Videographer Eddie Abrams also came out. A family cooked dinner for us, and we stayed with former Black Panther political prisoner Robert King of the Angola 3, and did a presentation for the National Black United Front and at Resistencia bookstore. In Houston, where we were paralyzed from the heat, we met up with a youth summer camp, and in Fort Worth we went to Dock’s Book Shop. I didn’t know that I would touch the lives of so many, but ever since I was really young, I knew my life had a purpose.

Hajj Malcolm: I really stress the importance of education, and unity. So, I’ve been on a national campaign along with the People's Minister of Information, JR, to raise awareness and promote this unity amongst those of us who have a common cause, similar aims and objectives and have the ability to distinguish friend from foe. Some of the places we’ve recently toured include Chicago, Detroit and Gary, Indiana where we connected with the grandson of Jeff Fort who started the Black P Stone Nation; we established a line with Larry Hoover of the Gangster Disciples and sat down with some of the top generals of the Vice Lord organization.  In California, we conversed with Lil’ Tookie who is the son of the late Stanley “Tookie” Williams who was executed on Death Row by Arnold Schwarzenegger. And one of the elders whom I consult with, and respect the most would be T. Rogers of Black P Stone Jungle out of Los Angeles. Though all of these conferences have centered around the promotion of unity amongst those of us individuals & organizations who share general common points of interest. So it was in this same vein that we toured several cities throughout Texas; including Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth. We screened a documentary produced by JR entitled "Operation Small Axe" which highlights the Oscar Grant case, as well as police brutality and terrorism in general and discussed the trappings of the mainstream media, among other things. One of the highlights for me was to be welcomed to stay with former political prisoner Robert King Wilkerson of the Angola 3 who served 31 years in U.S. concentration camps, and 29 of which was served in solitary confinement. 

JR, your book, Block Reportin’ has been very well received. How was that project birthed? Do you have plans to write any others in the future?

JR: The idea was birthed several years ago, most notably when my son’s mother started telling me how interesting my interviews were. She stressed that I get a book organized, and helped formulate a concept for it. This was in 2006-2007. It took 4-5 years for me to finish and be happy with it. I do have plans to write more books. I’ll probably start, by just continuing the Block Reportin’ series, which consists of compilations of interviews; I’m working on part two now, which will include India.Arie and Herbie Hancock, as well as Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, among others.

Hajj Malcolm, how do you balance external pressures regarding your lineage and legacy with your personal mission?

Hajj Malcolm: Growing up people often expected me to be a certain type of way because of who my grandfather is, and the family that I come from, but I often rebelled against that. I don't feel that it's ever beneficial to encourage someone to fill in or replace someone else's shoes, but rather one should be encouraged to grow within their own shoes, and to feel comfortable growing within who they are. So, growing up I often had difficulty dealing with that pressure. However, today I'm more of a revolutionary than a reactionary. It must also be bore in mind that my legacy doesn't just begin with my grandfather, and it won't end with me. The legacy is not about me, and it isn't suspended in the time frame of the here and now... When my aunts are gone and when I'm gone, we have children that will still be here. And ultimately, my daughter Ilyasah won't have to just say that her great-grandfather is Malcolm X, but that her father is Malcolm Shabazz, and that she is Ilyasah Shabazz. 

Both: How did this inspirational partnership begin and what do you hope to achieve with this tour?
JR: I wrote Malcolm, along with my comrade Ra’Shida, when he was in jail in the mid 2000’s. Years went by, Malcolm tracked my number down, and I got a call out of the blue telling me that he was on his way to California. Since then we have been all over together.

Hajj Malcolm: Back in 2003 when I was behind the wall I began to correspond with Yuri Kochiama who is a Japanese revolutionary that spent time in the United States's Japanese concentration camps of the 1940's. She later became one of my grandfather's greatest followers & supporters.  She was there the day he was assassinated, and was the first person by his side giving him C.P.R.  After reading one of my letters she had asked me for permission to have an excerpt from it published in the San Francisco "Bayview" newspaper to which M.O.I. JR Valrey was a writer. Over the course of the next couple years JR published some of my writings, as well as wrote to me and accepted my calls. I felt the energy, and I had made it known then that if there was anything that I could do to support the movement-even from behind the wall-then I would be of service. However, I was just advised to get home safely. Here it is years later, and I wouldn't have thought then that today JR and I would be organizing and traveling the world together. One thing that Yuri always advised me to do was to get my team together and keep my circle tight. Birds of a feather flock together, meaning that you're only as good as the company that you keep. Between me and JR, it will always be love and loyalty; death before dishonor!!

Both: Was this your first trip to Houston?

JR: This was not my first trip to Houston. It was the first time that we organized an event together in Houston.

Hajj Malcolm: I'm no stranger to Texas at all. I actually lived in San Antonio for some time when I was 12 years old. As for Houston, shout out to Al Hadi Islamic Ctr., Sheikh Mekki, Hajj Ali Jaffry, my brother Rashad and the lovely Fatima Licir (Algeria Stand up!).

Both: What, if any, type of impression did the Houston community make on you?

JR: I love Houston and the hospitality of people in Texas as a whole, at the same time, I also recognize that Texas needs some of Oakland’s revolutionary fire and initiative.

Hajj Malcolm: Houston has to be one my favorite cities in Texas.

Both: Is the spirit of the movement in Houston on par with other cities you’ve seen? If not, can you offer any words of advice to help us become stronger?

JR: In my opinion there are some strengths and weaknesses that I have encountered with the people I met in Houston on this tour. The hospitality was great. We never needed a whole lot of money. We had something to eat, and places to sleep. Now, when it comes to discussing practical strategies to deal with community issues, there seems to be a weakness in that department. I met a lot of people who loved to pontificate, but were not talking about anything practical. There’s a certain amount of timidness that exists in our people here more than anything.

Hajj Malcolm: Every where you go in the country there's a different vibe, and you will encounter differences; there are differences in ideology, religion, culture, particular histories and even speech. We speak differently. The Bay area of California is one of my favorite places because the people are very revolutionary spirited and military-minded. When an injustice is perpetuated by corrupt authority, then they generally have to bring out the national guard. I observed a fair degree of dissatisfaction in Texas, yet each time the person felt as if they were alone and that others weren't willing to take action. I'm a firm believer that one is only as good as the company they keep. And my advice would be that people network; meet and work along with others who share similar interests.

Both: Do you feel you have a particular audience that receives your message? More specifically, as young men yourselves, do you have a youth-centered aspect to your agenda?

JR: I have a target audience and that is young Black people living in the hood, at the same time, other people who do not fit that profile can also learn from what we think is important in our community. One of my missions is to get the Black community better politically educated, so that we will be informed enough to fight in our interest, specifically the youngsters.

Hajj Malcolm: I don't have a "particular" target audience. I appeal internationally to many people from various backgrounds, and walks of life. I speak at mosques, churches, universities, alternative high schools, juvenile detention and community centers.

Both: Speak to others, young and old, who say there’s no sense in educating themselves or getting involved with anything. Why is it important for brothers and sisters to learn who they are and to stand for something?

JR: First off, basic U.S. history starts with our people, Black people, being brought here in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, which means from the very beginning of the colonization of this place we now call the U.S.A., the powers that be were at war with us and thought that we only survived to serve their interests and needs. If we fast forward to today, not much has changed. It is important to have a political worldview so that you know what side of the fence your interests lie on. Without a political worldview, it is impossible to judge your friends from your enemies. It is important to stand for something, because this world belongs to all of us. So we might as well have a say in how it is governed, since we have to live with the decisions that are made. There are a lot of changes that need to be made to better the living conditions in our neighborhoods and schools, and we should participate in enacting that change, if we truly want to see it.

JR, What advice would you offer to those who have a desire to do be about revolution and activism, but their consciousness is just awakening and they may not know where to begin?

JR: Revolution means complete change, and you can enact revolutionary change in your community, or at least in the minds of its residents when you organize campaigns within your capacity and get the desired results. A huge part of revolutionary community work is working with the knowledge and skills of community members, to collectively take more power over our lives. I would encourage people to learn about the international history of resistance of the oppressed against the oppressors. Some people that should be studied are Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Ida B. Wells, Steve Biko, Patrice Lamumba, Winnie Mandela, Frantz Fanon, Amilicar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, Queen Nzinga, Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu Jamal, George Jackson, just to name a few.

Hajj Malcolm, if you were charged with presenting the State of the Union address, what would your main points be?

Hajj Malcolm: Again, I would have to stress the importance of unity and solidarity. Just as you have the European Union which is made up of countries like France (where I was born, unfortunately), Germany, Belgium, Holland, England, Spain,etc. These nations may not necessarily like each other, get along with one each other and might even open display hostility towards one another. However, they at least have enough common sense to come together for a common cause, to achieve a common goal and to stand up against a common enemy. When it comes time to implement their various imperialist/divide-and-conquer strategies and tactics, they come together quite quick.