By Chris McClarren
He’s humble. He’s funny. But don’t let that deceive you. His insights reveal the wisdom of an experienced sage who has gone through hell and returned. He will tell you like it is for an African captive in America using radio without the “permission” of the government for almost 20 years—to reach, educate and free his people. This man fully embodies his name, Mbanna Kantako, which means “resisting warrior” in the ancient language of Bambara. He calls his radio station (106.7FM in Springfield, IL) and radio network “Human Rights Radio.” In his words, its all about knowing you have “intrinsic value” and learning to stop answering to “bells, whistles and liars.”
Chris McClarren: I see you as someone who acts to contribute to the healing of our world by using radio. How do you see yourself?
Mbanna Kantako: I’m here simply because my people were kidnapped or taken captive here in America as a part of the institution called slavery. That’s the only reason I am here. That’s the only reason I am here speaking this language. I recognize my political status as an African captive. In order to try to deal with that situation, we got involved with the radio. It’s like an electronic drum, if you will—to try to bring information. I don’t plan on being a captive very much longer.
What’s your history with radio?
We got involved because we were doing things in the community trying to change the condition of our people. We were living in the projects at the time. The more we tried to do, the more we found out that the media wasn’t ever on your side. We founded our own group, the Tenant Rights Association. Eventually, the issue of the police came up. They killed somebody, so our organization messed with the school board, the housing authority, the park district, the transportation district, everywhere we could, to say “you are trapped now, you are going to have to say something about the police.”
It was hard. They were writing us tickets like it wasn’t nobody’s business. They were arresting us. The press really went off on our organization—mainly me. That was March of ’87. But by the summer of ’87 I was like the lone ranger in a lot of places. What they did was offer people the choice to get away from it—like, “we only want him.” As the group started to shrink up the ability to knock on people’s doors and go inside to talk to them became . . . well . . . people couldn’t let you in their house cause the word was, as soon as I leave somebody’s house, the police would knock on the door.
We bought a transmitter out of Paradise, California. We came on the air the 25th of November, 1987 to let our community know the group of us trying to do things to change the conditions were still committed to that.
If you were at home and I was talking to you over the radio, you could build your spiritual strength up to where you could handle whatever confrontation you might have for being involved with this. That’s why the radio was so important. We could reach people and they didn’t have to expose themselves.
Were you secret about it at first or open?
No. Never, never try to be secret.
Did it scare you at the time to go on the air?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. It was one of the scariest times in my life. I decided I was gonna go out fighting for what’s right, but even then I didn’t know if I wanted to go that fast. [laughs]
What were you doing on the air?
Our original organization was people that we partied with. One of the things that makes it very difficult for people to get anything done today is that they can’t even party together. When you get down here and start banging with the government, there’s going to be some stress. If you can’t enjoy each other’s presence in a good pleasant comfortable situation like a party when everybody’s cool, then how the hell are you gonna get down in this foxhole with me, and you and me not kill each other?
Our organizational means was direct confrontation. Our method of teaching was direct confrontation. We’d confront ‘em with tape recorders on different things. They never had anybody confront ‘em on anything. Our job was to just dog ‘em out in front of the people and let them see.
When we first came on the air, it hit the country like a bomb. You know what they were saying: “Negroes is using transmitters, stop em!” That’s what it was like. It wasn’t like “Hey, great move” or nothing like that. A lot of folks sat back waiting to see if they were going to kill me before they started the free radio movement. To me, if you want to use this as a means to get your point across, you don’t have to call it a free radio movement, just say you got the good sense to use what’s available.
What kept the FCC from raiding you until 2000?
The Creator—but nobody wants to believe that. What we are doing is right, it’s real. I try to be the worst possible nightmare the government could ever have. My elders said it’s my duty to whip their booty, and I love it. Cause I know ultimately they are going to have to talk to my people about reparations and stuff like that. It’s not just a broadcast we are doing here. When you take a people and tell them they ain’t shit for 11 generations and you beat ‘em down until the point where they don’t even think about their own identity, and they are always trying to be anybody but themselves, its going to take some work [to recover]. It’s not going to be, “Okay, Abraham Lincoln signed a piece of paper, it’s over with!”
Why didn’t you ever file with the FCC for a license?
That’s stupid. That’s so silly. Where was they when the air came? Air was here before the U.S. Then they’ll say, “Well, we got to regulate.” I never applied for a license cause I think it is degrading to humanity to suggest that they [the US government] is the ones that can pass them out. They might want to call themselves the leaders of the free world, but I dealt with liars before.
What do you think of the current FCC “chief’s” concern about “profanity?”
Yeah, right. What he’s concer
ned about on the air is controlling the content of political talk. They’ll pretend they’re concerned about profanity. What they want to control is what you think. John Stockwell [former CIA agent] wrote the book: The Praetorian Guard. If you don’t get about the business of filling your mind with the things that you need, then somebody else will fill your mind with those things.
How did your station evolve into being called “Human Rights” Radio?
My teacher. I met my mentor elder, Senseia Kankanji, in ’88 and he’s the one who hooked me to human rights.
What does that mean to you?
Rights I am born with. It’s basically a belief that you have some value, which is contrary to what this government teaches you – “Get out here and prostitute your ass and if you don’t find nobody that wants to pay you, then you can’t eat, you can’t have a place to stay, you can’t live.” The whole thing is predicated on you hating yourself. You have to hate yourself to submit to this.
You have intrinsic value. Skip the Constitution, skip any old piece of paper—you got a dag gone right to be here and nobody has the right to tell you different. See, I really had to isolate myself for a lot of years, to get where I’m at. I’m not a very stable kind of guy; I got a lot of issues. I had to learn how to think more of others than myself. I had to isolate myself and focus on a commitment to others—an unquestionable commitment, an unconditional commitment.
That sounds like developing a profound kind of love, a commitment and sense of integrity to the whole.
That’s it, that’s what it’s all about for me. See, my teacher told me, we ain’t gonna talk nobody out of this condition. The only chance we got is somebody trying to show them out, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t have the answers.
What’s the main focus of your work?
Education. Bringing the community together and finding a common ground that we can relate to. Being a facilitator. I am one of those who has been blessed to have a lot of our people share with me and put a lot of their information in me, and my job is to pass it on to our people.
Besides radio, I hear you are doing television?
It’s a cable access show. It’s called “R.A.P. with R.A.P.” which stands for “Restoring African People with Raw African Power.” It airs in Springfield, IL and Berkeley, CA. I do a show where I write poetry and songs—to teach the things that I learn to kids. They can go on the TV show and do the song. We’ve had about 45 different kids and adults participate in the shows. We have 92 TV shows done. We got a lot of different subject areas we cover. We try to deal with our people’s experience. There are so many different nationalities under that label black. That’s one of the crimes of America right there, that we are all labeled black—that we are not Ashanti, we’re not Moabite, we’re not Kushite.
And you support other radio stations, too?
Brother Levell [99.9FM] in Decatur here down the road, and brother Nko [94.3FM], in Durham, NC, and brother Michael Hibbitt [103.3FM] of Hunters Point, CA. And anybody else. I have a lot of kids and young brothers that come in town that I mentor here and across the country.
So, what does a day on the radio look like right now?
Every night I do a show we call “Notes on the Devil’s News.” We’ve been doing that since 1990. Malcolm said we are going to have to define and decode what’s happening around us ourselves. At the end of everyday, we take a look at what they call the news and the headlines. I tell people this stuff is irrelevant if you get back into the right program but since they call it a headline, let’s look at it. Mainly, it’s a platform to launch a human rights discussion every night.
Like say today’s schedule. I have a lot of elders that I’ve learned from like Dr. Brock out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, so at midnight Dr. Brock was on. He’s with the Self Determination Committee out of DC. You’ll find him at DirectBlackAction.com on the web.
At 1:20AM I play a show called “Brothers at the Real Table.” Then I got a series called “America: the Criminal” I started in 2000. I think that got me raided as good as any. But I say just be out there! My whole thing is, this whole conversation, Human Rights, needs to be out there. Everywhere we can put it, as many places as we can put it. It’s about death to all tyrants! That’s about as good as you can put it.
How do you encourage people that are afraid?
Just step out. It ain’t nearly as tough as you think it is. It really ain’t.
We’re trying to get a Civilian Oversight Board of the police in St. Louis. I want to know more about the work you did around police brutality.
See, the police is vermin. They love to do shit in the dark. But you gotta expose them, and that’s what we did with the radio. I didn’t want to, OK. When we came on the air, I didn’t deal with no police—no police those first couple of years. In ‘89, people started coming to me with stories of being brutalized. The first man that came to me was an older man that I knew. I kind of thought that he was like a grandfather to me, and hell, I was just motivated to record it. And then Boom! That went off and it just started happening.
People just started telling me stuff. People said, “Go tell him, he’ll play it.” Ya know, once you get there, you can’t go back. You know one thing that really hurts people is that everybody that gets in sells ‘em out. I won’t be that one.
And so more people came to keep talking with you . . .
And you have to take it, you have to stay. Ain’t nobody free. They want people to act like they are free today! We call America anti-human. This is a wicked place we’re in, and human life don’t mean nothing.
I don’t think any form of life means anything to them.
No. America ain’t in favor of nothing because they got this greed thing, and everything’s predicated on
that. To make you help them get their greed thing on, they have to grind you down; they got to make you feel like dirt. Come on now. The earth is 25 trillion years old. Now are you gonna be with the earth or is you gonna be with these fools?
I’m doing a family reunion with my mother’s family, these people from Mississippi. They’re called “illiterate” and “uneducated.” They could tell you if it was gonna rain—not just what day but what time it would rain. When you’re in tune with that, you’re in tune with a whole new world, in tune with that kind of knowledge. Our people—we gotta get back to the earth.
Do you think there’s any way that media reformists can be allies?
“Can’t we get along” guys?
There are a lot of people out there that think we can challenge corporate power.
While wearing the corporate hats? What about the record of corporate power? In that exchange, what does the record show? Those reformists know there are crumbs falling off that table. I been there. I’m not trying to hear that. Everybody talk that mess. You have got to understand, it’s a predatory situation and in order to get away with it, it’s all lies. They’ll be saying, “Oh I’m helping you” while they’re robbing you.
It is pretty traumatic, to find out that everything you’ve ever been taught is a lie.
It’s like you’ve been raped. You wanna get the rapist and kill him, you wanna kill him. You’ve gotta learn to look through everything they say. It’s a spiritual story—I know that’s why I lost my sight. When I had my sight, I believed everything they said. I lost my sight, and they be doing that shit in front of me, and it don’t even phase me. Everything is about that image.
See, the media is not an accident. That’s why they got to be careful. They know it’s like if they are baking a cake, and they throw all the ingredients in a bowl, but then I come in and throw some other shit in they don’t know nothing about—that cake is not going to come out right. They are making fools, they are making idiots, they are making assholes—and I want to come in there and drop something in that’s not about making assholes.
In order to be able to love myself, my body, I want to be able to have my sight and not have that stuff affect me.
What I teach people is – people that come behind me, that can learn what I’ve learned, and have their sight – they can really get some shit done. It’s gonna take some real serious restraint and discipline, and willingness to go that extra that other people won’t go. What stops most people is the crowd! The crowd is stupid as hell! And everybody wants to fit in the crowd! I’m trying to get out of the crowd!
I used to call myself the deprogramming director, cause that’s what we’re doing; we’re trying to deprogram ourselves and our people. They’re still demanding of our people that they answer to bells and whistles and liars, and we try to tell them that we don’t got to.
Out of all these years of doing micro radio, what is the most important thing for me to know if I want to go home and set up my own ”human rights” radio?
Know that what you are doing is right. And then know that because you are doing right, what goes around, will come around. They will tell you anything to get you not to do it. That is gonna be your first line of defense, cause you’re gonna need some lines of defense.
If you approach it like what you are doing is wrong, then don’t do it cause they are going to crawl all over you. It ain’t going to be the government that’s going to give you the most hell. It’s going to be people you know. The government will send you a letter every now and then but everything they do is calculated to terrorize the people that you know and care about. They get away with so much because people cooperate.
You got to make this beast be what he is. Get up in court and claim you are on the air. Tell us we can’t record people who are being paid tax money to do [stuff] for us. Go on and tell everybody this. I been to court with these fools a million times on different things and I look forward to going. I really do love going into that court room if for nothing else [because] I am going to educate everybody in that courthouse—cause I don’t stand up for them. All rise? Kiss my ass. I’m not guilty of nothing. They ain’t in charge. We just give ‘em the authority.
Is there anything right with America?
It’s almost over. That’s about the best thing about it right now. I know that there is no way that humanity has to tolerate [America] any longer if we just don’t want to. They boot is as far up your ass as you let them put it. Period.
“Human Rights Radio” can be found on the internet at www.humanrightsradio.net. For additional information, do a web “search” using “Mbanna Kantako.” Although Mbanna has been raided by the FCC twice, and had all his equipment taken each time, he’s still on the air in Springfield, IL 24/7.