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Pinellas County Commission revokes Black Power 96 Radio’s funding award

Mar 6, 2023

On February 14, 2023, the Pinellas County Commission voted to revoke $36,801 in funding for St. Petersburg’s WBPU 96.3 FM radio, “Black Power 96.”

This denial of well-deserved resources was a blatant and vicious attack on the ability of African people to have our own media voice serving the needs of our own black community!

WBPU radio is a project of the nonprofit African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) that has created programs by and for the black community for over 27 years.

Black Power 96 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 radio station’s application was reviewed through an impartial and transparent process, met all the requirements and was ranked fourth out of 55 applicants in its category by a panel of independent qualified reviewers.

The funds were to be used to buy equipment for this unique radio station that provides critically needed communications, cultural and economic development services to the impoverished and oppressed black community of south St. Petersburg, including:

  • FM transmitter, emergency alert system, broadcast mixing board and battery back-ups to replace aging equipment
  • Talk show system for live guests and listener call-ins
  • Computers, a production mixing board, mics and headphones for the station’s broadcast journalism training program
  • A mobile DJ kit for live events and remote broadcasts

White nationalists attack Black Power

The County Commissioners had voted in November 2022 to award the funds to WBPU along with many other nonprofit organizations in the first round of “small purchase” applicants. WBPU had signed the contract and was, along with the other awardees, waiting for the County to release the funds.

Then on February 9 during a Commission “workshop” session on the next round of ARPA grant applications, newly-seated commissioner Chris Latvala declared his opposition to the Commission’s decision to include WBPU among the nonprofit organizations receiving ARPA funding.

The local daily newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, quoted Latvala as saying, “there are numerous reasons they should not ever receive funding from this board.”

The Times went on to summarize Latvala’s attack on the Uhuru Movement, writing, “He accused the group of having antisemitic beliefs, though he did not cite specifics. The Anti-Defamation League, in a report issued last year, noted links between the Uhuru Movement and black nationalist groups, such as the Nation of Islam, with a history of antisemitism, but it did not accuse the Uhurus of direct antisemitic activity.”

The Times continued, “He also referenced a 1996 mock trial in which Uhuru members called for the execution of then-St. Petersburg police chief Darrel Stephens, then-mayor David Fischer and two officers after police fatally shot 18-year-old TyRon Lewis, setting off protests and riots in the city.”

In the February 9 Commission meeting, Latvala also tried to challenge APEDF’s right to receive this funding, accusing it of being a “political party” that “ran candidates in nearly every election cycle” and noted the African People’s Socialist Party’s advocacy for the release of African prisoners in an attempt to mobilize opposition from this pro-police body.

The fact is, while the African People’s Education and Defense Fund is a respected part of the broad-based Uhuru Movement, it is an independent black-led entity that complies with all laws and regulations to maintain its tax exempt status and its ability to receive funding designated for nonprofit organizations.

In the commission’s next meeting of February 14, Latvala introduced a motion to revoke WBPU’s funding. This time he gave his reason as, “I do not think we should be funding radio stations with the amount of needs that there are in the community.” His motion was immediately seconded by commissioner René Flowers, the only black member of the board, and passed unanimously without discussion.

Despite Florida’s “government- in-the-sunshine” law, requiring public access to any gathering of two or more members of the same board—state or local—to discuss some matter which will foreseeably come before that board for action, these commissioners had obviously conspired over the weekend and came to Tuesday’s meeting prepared to deny the black community resources. This motion was not even on the published agenda, skirting any input from the community.

Latvala family schemes

Chris Latvala is new to the Pinellas County Commission, but he’s heir to a family legacy of dirty political deals and profiteering from the electoral system. Big fish in a small pond, his father Jack launched a large Republican direct mail operation from Pinellas County in the 1980s.

The elder Latvala was forced to resign from his Florida State Senate seat in 2018 due to charges of sexual harassment and public corruption. Since then, he’s moved millions of dollars from his political committee to support other candidates with most of the money ending up in the Latvala family businesses— Gulf Coast Imprinting and son Chris’ Golden Jaquar Consulting firm.

The Latvalas’ clients have included Kathleen Peters for County Commission and the notorious Bob Gualtieri for sheriff. Chris Latvala weaseled his way onto the Pinellas County Commission through a last minute provision in a statewide elections bill tied to redistricting.

As a state senator, he was able to vote and help pass the bill that benefitted his own grab of the County Commission seat where he faced no opponent and today earns a salary of $112,711, more than $80,000 over his previous legislative salary of $30,000.

The attack on the Uhuru Movement by Latvala is not surprising. Recipient of the 2022 “Florida State Fraternal Order of Police Lifetime Achievement Award,” he’s aligned with the thugs known for victimizing the black community with violence and discriminatory enforcement.

René Flowers teams up with Latvala

Commissioner René Flowers, who quickly seconded Latvala’s motion to revoke WBPU’s funding, has her own nefarious history of selling out the black community.

Flowers sat on the St. Petersburg City Council for nearly nine years, from 1999 to 2008. In 2001, the African People’s Education and Defense Fund succeeded in acquiring Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the City for the TyRon Lewis Community Gym.

CDBG funding comes into local municipal coffers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) based on the levels of poverty in a given community.

St. Petersburg cited the statistics of poverty concentrated in the black community to get the money from the feds, but routed the money to the corporations that pay for the politicians’ campaigns.

In St. Pete during that period, CDBG money had been used to destroy the Laurel Park affordable public housing in order to create a parking lot for the Tropicana Field dome that was itself built on the graves and destroyed black neighborhood of the Gas Plant area. CDBG funds were also used to upgrade the hotel rooms of the Hilton Hotel.

The African People’s Education and Defense Fund and the black community had to fight like hell to get CDBG resources. People from the community attended numerous council meetings to speak out about the importance of the fitness gym and health program.

Community-driven organizations were never awarded these funds, but APEDF paved the way and won.

Flowers blocking black progress goes way back

But wait a minute…as soon as the community achieved this, René Flowers led the charge to change the rules so that no nonprofit could receive such CDBG funding unless they had an equal amount of money on reserve in the bank.

This meant that no small black nonprofit community organization could access these funds. Only the wealthy white groups could get their hands on the HUD money.

The City also added requirements for more frequent and extensive financial audits that cost tens of thousands of dollars—prohibitive for most small nonprofits.

Several years later, the APEDF was preparing to renovate the Uhuru House at 1245 18th Avenue South in St. Pete and to expand the size of its Akwaaba Hall events venue, a unique facility used for family and cultural events in this impoverished black community.

In order to do this, additional parking space was required, so APEDF sought to purchase a City-owned vacant lot across the street. A purchase contract was approved by the City’s real estate department, but René Flowers stepped in and argued that she had a pet project in mind, to build affordable housing on that lot.

She blocked the expansion of the Uhuru House black community center and never built the housing. That lot remains vacant today.

Prior to taking her seat on the Pinellas County Commission, Flowers worked for

Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (GCJFCS) as Development Director (i.e. fundraiser) for 13 years. GCJFCS received $79,829 in ARPA funds. Flowers used her seat on the Commission to ensure that her former employer and colleagues were funded, while voting against the black community.

Black Power 96 thrives, unbowed

For the past six years, WBPU 96.3 FM has broadcast music and public affairs programming produced by and for the local black community. WBPU’s FM signal reaches over 100,000 residents in south St. Pete and many more listeners internationally through its website,, and its mobile app “Black Power 96.”

Black Power 96 is a wellspring of information and assistance to the local black community. During hurricane season, WBPU broadcasts critical preparedness tips along with up-to-the-minute updates on neighborhood shelter and transportation availability.

WBPU gives media exposure to the stories, viewpoints, musical talent and economic initiatives of the south St. Pete community. The station provides free professional broadcast training and internships.

WBPU’s Radio Station Manager, Eddie Maultsby, was born and raised in St. Petersburg and is 100 percent blind. For 30 years, this talented member of the black community entertained and inspired generations of residents and visitors to St. Pete as a street performer, playing guitar and singing.

He created the station’s weekly "Local Going Global" contest to give radio exposure to local unsigned musical artists who are excluded from the large radio chains that dominate the market. Musicians submit their music, listeners vote for their favorite song and the winner receives frequent airplay. WBPU has helped several local unsigned artists build a fan base and secure recording contracts.

Some of Black Power 96’s locally produced programs, including “Black Power Talks” and “Reparations in Action” are reaching a worldwide audience, through podcasting and syndication on other community radio stations.

The station has just completed its February Supporting Member Fund Drive raising funds to continue operations, once again receiving an outpouring of support from listeners locally and around the world. But now additional resources are needed to replace the revoked funding for equipment needs.

Colonialism says, “If you don’t say what the white man wants you to say, you can’t say it.” Well, Black Power 96 radio says what must be said to win the war of ideas in the anti-colonial struggle, proudly serving as the voice of the African working class.

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