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Black community denounces Pinellas County Commission for revoking radio station funding

On Monday, February 20, leaders and members of the St. Petersburg, Florida black community held a press conference regarding the Pinellas County Commission’s vote to revoke the Commission’s prior decision to award $36,801 in federally-supplied funding for WBPU FM “Black Power 96” community radio station.

Speakers and community supporters who participated in the press conference included

  • WBPU’s Station Manager Eddie Maultsby
  • African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) Administrator Janice Kant
  • Burning Spear Media Director Akilé Anai
  • Representatives from 99 Jamz radio station
  • Local artists, business supporters and volunteers involved in the radio station

“We are outraged that the Pinellas County Commission has moved to deny funding to this black radio station that provides critical information, communications, economic development, cultural and free training services to our community. We will not let this stand!” declared Akile Anai, Uhuru Movement leader.

Video of the Press Conference


APEDF Statement

Black Power 96 Radio is a project of the African People’s Education and Defense Fund. APEDF gave the following statement at the press conference:

The African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF) has served the black community of south St. Petersburg in Pinellas County for 29 years.

APEDF has provided vital support programs including a fitness gym, free HIV testing, family festivals, marketplaces for neighborhood vendors, public forums, a community meeting place, an events venue, and backyard gardening education. The licensed kitchen is a unique resource for local entrepreneurs to build their food businesses and for nonprofit organizations to prepare food to feed those in need or to train developmentally disabled adults.

The mission of APEDF is to defend the human and civil rights of the African community, and to create programs and institutions that address the grave disparities in health, education and economicdevelopment faced by African people. APEDF has been self-funded since its inception in 1994.

APEDF has operated a noncommercial, low power radio station for over five years, fulfilling a critical need for news and public service information, emergency weather alerts, health information, cultural development and professional career training.

WBPU Black Power 96 music and public affairs programming is produced by and for the local black community. The signal reaches over 100,000 residents in south St. Pete, Pinellas County’s largest and most concentrated historically black community that has experienced disproportionately negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The station is a wellspring of information and assistance to the local black community. During hurricane season, we broadcast preparedness tips along with up-to-the-minute information on shelter and transportation availability. Throughout the COVID pandemic, we have provided timely and reliable info on public safety protocols, testing and vaccine availability along with educational programming to help community members build healthy lifestyles and strong immune systems.

This locally owned and operated station gives voice to the stories, viewpoints, musical talent and economic initiatives of the south St. Pete community. We have provided free training and internships to scores of local residents, ranging from high school students to senior citizens.

The station’s weekly “Local Going Global” contest gives radio exposure to local musical artists who are excluded from the large radio chains that dominate the market. WBPU has helped several unsigned artists build a fan base and secure recording contracts.

The grant which APEDF applied for and was awarded is called the American Rescue Plan Act Nonprofit Capital Project Fund. Billions of dollars of federal grant funds are required to be used for equipment and structures. The money comes from all our tax dollars including that of black community. These funds do not belong to the Pinellas County Commission, and the purpose cannot be changed.

APEDF’s application for the ARPA small purchases grant was ranked 4th of 55 applications with a 94% score by the reviewing committee. $36,800 was approved by the Pinellas County Commission in November 2022 for critical equipment including:

  • An updated Emergency Alert System, a backup transmitter and battery backups to provide real-time alerts about weather emergencies and to protect equipment so that the station can remain on-air during temporary power outages.
  • A listener call-in system to meet the increased demand from the community to interact with live radio guests and have their voices heard. This is especially important to facilitate listener call-ins during weather and other emergencies when local community members rely on each other to share information through “word of mouth.”
  • Audio production equipment to expand public service educational programming and expand our free training in audio production, radio broadcasting, writing and research to community members of all ages.
  • A remote mobile DJ kit for local social service and educational providers to connect with our south St. Pete radio listening audience.

Roughly a quarter of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don’t own a smartphone, 43% don’t have internet in the home and 41% don’t own a computer. With the median black household income in south St. Pete being under $37,000, this means that residents are heavily reliant on radio as a primary source of news, information and culture. WBPU is south St. Pete’s only FM radio station.

Only 21% of residents of the black community served by WBPU have earned a college degree, compared to 44% of white St. Petersburg residents. WBPU hosts local interns and volunteers to gain hands-on experience or community service hours to advance their education and receive professional career training. WBPU also broadcasts free job training resources. We provide internships and paid employment to local college and high school students who are struggling to recover academically and economically from the pandemic. This is economic empowerment.

Again, these federal ARPA grants were specifically designated for capital projects such as equipment and structures. The 33 other nonprofit organization grants approved by the Commission on November 15th funded items such as transport vans, a truck, a forklift, furniture, computers, software, surveillance systems and dental equipment.

APEDF also has an application pending in the second round of ARPA grant funding for large capital projects. Our initial application for this was rated 4th of 60 applications by the review team. The grant would fund a building generator to allow the radio station and community commercial kitchen to operate and serve the community during emergencies.

For the Pinellas County Commission to now say that they want to fund “people over products” is clearly a cover for their intent to deny APEDF funds because of our association with the Uhuru Movement, which has stood up for the rights of the black community for over 50 years. Funding capital projects for nonprofits who serve the people is specifically called for by the ARPA law.

The community is outraged. This grant was awarded to APEDF based on merit. We had an excellent proposal and met all the criteria. The Black community deserves these resources, and is tired of broken promises, secret votes and take backs. The Commission vote to revoke the grant on February 14th was not announced nor on a public agenda, and it is not even in the notes from the public meeting.

We are pursuing all our options including legal action against the Pinellas County Commission for violating the federal grant rules, for violating Sunshine laws as well as for slander, libel and false accusations. Please watch the video of the February 9th Commission meeting, Pinellas County Commission 2-9-23, available on the county website, to see the innuendo and unfounded defamatory, derogatory and unprofessional remarks from the Commissioners who wanted to find any way to stop the legitimately earned grant funds from going to APEDF.

We will not be set back. We are continuing the work of Black Power 96 and all APEDF programs that benefit, protect and defend the black community in St. Pete and elsewhere.

The APEDF mission and mantra is to Defend the Human and Civil Rights of the African Community. We believe African people have the right to Self-Determination!

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