February 28, 2023 – On the last day of Black History Month, members and supporters of St. Petersburg’s black community addressed the Pinellas County Commissioners regarding the Commission’s February 14, 2023 vote to take back $36,801 in funding for St. Petersburg’s black community radio station, WBPU 96.3 FM, aka Black Power 96.
WBPU radio is a project of the nonprofit African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF), headquartered at the Uhuru House. The station had won the funding allocated through the county from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), purportedly designed to “ensure an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The funds were to be used to buy equipment for this community radio station that provides educational, cultural, economic development and free broadcast training services, including:
- New FM transmitter, emergency alert system, broadcast mixing board
- Talk show system for live guests and listener call-ins
- Computers, production mixing board, mics and headphones for free training and youth internship program with accessibility features for the station’s blind Station Manager
- Mobile DJ kit for live events and remote broadcasts
Present at the Commission meeting to call for the restoration of Black Power 96’s funding was Station Manager Eddie Maultsby; APEDF Administrative Staff member, Janice Kant; St. Pete Uhuru Movement leader, Akilé Anai; local artist Alan “Dally Boy” Perry, Uhuru Solidarity Movement members Jamie and Johann; student and engineer-in-training, Elyshah Jennings; Uhuru Pies volunteer, Peg and on Zoom were APEDF rep Kitty Reilly, Black Power 96 secretary and grant writer Sandy, and St. Pete business owner, Counsuelo Mackey-Perry.
Profound statements of support for APEDF and Black Power 96 Radio were given, explaining the important service the station provides to the community. Station Manager Eddie gave his powerful testimony of starting out as a performer for over two decades on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, busking as a means to gain resources and recognition. When he heard about Black Power 96 Radio six years ago, he approached the station and was offered a spot as a regular DJ until two years ago he was promoted to Station Manager.
Dally Boy spoke on how as a local artist, Black Power 96 was the only one who opened their doors and airwaves to his music, through the popular Local Going Global program that gives a platform to independent, unsigned artists in the African community.
Janice’s statement showcased the incredible work of APEDF for nearly 30 years of service to the African community. APEDF’s track record of institutions and programs that address the grave disparities of health, education and economic development for the African community is something the Pinellas County Commission can never claim to have.
Elyshah’s presentation showcased how Black Power 96 opens up doors and opportunities for our youth to learn and develop new skills in radio engineering, broadcasting, software, programming and more.
Comrades Jamie and Johann expressed that the Pinellas County Commission, composed mostly of white people, should not have the right to make the determination as to whether or not this station is of necessity to the African community. Jamie, an educator with Pinellas County Schools, asserted that this attack on Black Power 96 was akin to Florida governor DeSantis’ banning of black history and literature from schools. He also noted that one of his students was a local artist who had her music appear on Black Power 96, and this recognition as an artist contributed to a boost in her morale and improvement in her academic achievement.
Chris Clement, a Black Power 96 station volunteer from Palm Harbor with professional qualifications in computer science and radio engineering, submitted a written statement in support of the station, declaring, “Operating with equipment that is nearing obsolescence becomes a liability and expensive responsibility. There is also a present need for equipment operable by visually impaired talent. Community radio stations play an important role in promoting local voices, diversity, and civic engagement, while providing a valuable source of local news, information, and educational programming.”
Public funding denied for political reasons
Prior to the February 28 meeting, the Commission had met on February 9 and hurled a slew of slanderous comments at the Uhuru Movement. (See article from the March issue of The Burning Spear newspaper: Pinellas County Commission revokes Black Power 96 Radio’s funding award) They characterized the Movement as anti-semitic, agents of the Russian government, and criticized a tribunal that had been organized to put the State on trial for the murder of 18-year-old TyRon Lewis in 1996. At the time, notorious sellout Renée Flowers, presently on the Board of Commissioners, was among those found guilty for her role in betraying the African community.
Commissioner Chris Latvala, among those to spearhead the attack, comes from a politically corrupt dynasty that has over the years, paid for their positions on government bodies, securing their ability to carry out the will of the colonizer over the interest of the colonized, oppressed African community.
Akilé and Sandy directly addressed Flowers and Latvala at the February 28 meeting. Sandy called out Flowers for her involvement in preventing the Uhuru Movement from being able to expand its programs and facilities by denying us the ability to purchase an empty lot across the street from the Uhuru House. During this time, Flowers was on the St. Pete city council and argued that she intended to use the land for affordable housing—the lot is still empty 15 years later.
From the podium, Akilé stated: “…the Commission’s decision to take away these resources from APEDF and Black Power 96 Radio is purely politically motivated. It has nothing to do with whether or not they believe radio is of necessity. This is clearly an infringement upon the rights of black people as presumed citizens of the U.S. The fact is, we have a different opinion, and we’re unafraid to express it, and because of this we are being punished. We don’t and have never agreed with Flowers or the Latvala dynasty, or anyone else that has ever stood in the way of black people being able to achieve political and economic power over our lives. But whether or not Flowers, Latvala and the rest of this Commission “likes” the Uhuru Movement is not what the grant was about. Those funds do not belong to any of the Commissioners; they belong to the people.
“If democracy is under attack in this country, the Pinellas County Commission should be held responsible for attacking and criminalizing black people for exercising our rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly.”
Africans have right to self-determination
Members and supporters of St. Pete’s southside black community call for support for the station to ensure Black Power 96’s critical services are not disrupted, including:
- Emergency alert broadcasts especially during hurricane season when the station airs preparedness tips along with up-to-the-minute updates on neighborhood shelter and transportation availability.
- Free professional broadcast and journalism training and internships.
- Media exposure to local artists and businesses otherwise denied access to radio airwaves, promoting cultural and economic development.
“We do not accept this attack on our community’s right to resources and to free speech! We demand the restoration of this well-deserved and critically needed funding,” said Station Manager Eddie Maultsby, Jr.