Pinellas County Commission opposes Black community radio

The community came out to support Black Power 96 at their Feb. 20 press conference.

Dear Editor:

Last month, the Pinellas County Commission voted to revoke $36,801 in funding for St. Petersburg’s WBPU 96.3 FM radio, also known as Black Power 96.

Akile Anai, editor-in-chief of The Burning Spear” newspaper, declared, “This denial of well-deserved resources is a blatant attack on the ability of African people to have our own radio station serving the needs of our own Black community! Just like Gov. Rick DeSantis banning Black history and literature from Florida schools, the Pinellas County Commission doesn’t want Black people to be heard.”

WBPU radio is a project of the nonprofit African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF), headquartered at the Uhuru House. They 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 program
  • Mobile DJ kit for live events and remote broadcasts 

Public funding denied for political reasons

Black Power 96’s application was ranked fourth out of 55 applicants by a panel of reviewers in an impartial process. ARPA funding comes from tax dollars paid by everyone and is supposed to be awarded on the merits of the proposal, not the political views of the Commissioners.

The County Commission voted in November 2022 to award the funds to WBPU, along with many other nonprofit organizations. On Feb. 9, Commissioner Chris Latvala declared his opposition to the inclusion of WBPU among the groups receiving ARPA funding.

Latvala accused the Uhuru Movement of being anti-semitic but offered no evidence of the charge. He criticized the Uhuru Movement’s protest of the 1996 police killing of 18-year-old TyRon Lewis and its backing of candidates for local office, confusing the nonprofit APEDF with the broader Uhuru Movement.

Then on Feb. 14, Latvala introduced a motion to revoke WBPU’s funding. It was immediately seconded by commissioner René Flowers and passed.

Latvala and Flowers team up

Republican Latvala is new to the Pinellas County Commission but is heir to a family legacy in the electoral system. His dad, Jack 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. Most of that money ends up in the Latvala family businesses — Gulf Coast Imprinting and Chris Latvala Golden Jaguar Consulting.

In 2001 the African People’s Education and Defense Fund won Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the city for the TyRon Lewis Community Gym. CDBG money comes from HUD  to uplift impoverished neighborhoods, but St. Pete was giving the money to big corporations for projects like paving the parking lot of the Dome and upgrading the Hilton Hotel.

APEDF paved the way for other small Black organizations to get CDBG funds. But according to Anai, “once the community won this, René Flowers led the charge to change the rules so that no one could get CDBG funding unless they had an equal amount of money in the bank, preventing any small Black nonprofit community group from getting these funds.”

Anai continued, “Then, when APEDF was preparing to renovate the Uhuru House and enlarge Akwaaba Hall for more family and cultural events, René Flowers stepped in to block the purchase of a city-owned vacant lot across the street for the required parking. She said she wanted to build affordable housing on that lot.” That lot remains vacant today.

Black community radio thrives, unbowed.

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

At a press conference on Feb. 20, community members spoke out in support of Black Power 96. Eddie Maultsby Jr. shared his story as a blind man who went from street performer to community radio station manager. “I sung downtown for 35 years. Then I knocked on the door of Black Power radio.

“They told me, ‘this is a station for everybody.’ I started DJ’ing gospel music. I was asked to serve as Assistant Manager and then Station Manager. Black Power radio has its roots in this community, and it’s going to stay in this community.”

Jabaar Edmond, host of Tampa Bay Breakfast Club on St. Petersburg’s 99 Jams Carifesta Radio, expressed their solidarity with Black Power 96. He said, “We support Black Power 96 because Black radio matters. St. Pete has two Black-owned community radio stations on the FM dial. Black Power 96 is living Black history.

“This radio station and the Uhuru Movement have deep roots in St. Pete that goes back to the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve always seen Uhuru working in the community, helping the community. Black Power 96 is a cultural hub. This place grooms leaders; gives people on-the-job training. Black Power 96 deserves this funding.”

Allan Perry is a local author who also performs under Dally Boy. He testified to the importance of Black Power 96 radio as a way for local artists and businesses to grow.

“I was born and raised in St. Pete. 96.3 offers us as artists a chance to get our music played when other radio stations won’t play us. We don’t have to degrade ourselves or rap about killing each other. We don’t have to say ‘Bs’ and the ‘N-word’ to get our music played. This station has helped many local artists reach the next level.”

APEDF and Black Power 96 say they will fight for this funding while continuing to rely primarily on community support from listeners and neighborhood businesses. For more information, call 727-914-3614, visit, or drop by the station at 1245 18th Ave. S.

African People’s Education & Defense Fund

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