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ChangeMakers: Walter 'Q bear' Banks Jr., instrumental to the Minneapolis sound

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Walter "Q bear" Banks Jr.
Walter "Q bear" Banks Jr., 59, DJ and operations manager at KMOJ community radio station sits for a portrait inside the station in Minneapolis on Monday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Every weekday in February, MPR News is featuring black Minnesotans making history to celebrate Black History Month.

Walter "Q bear" Banks Jr., 59, is a DJ and operations manager at KMOJ community radio station.

Banks has been broadcasting the Minneapolis sound at the station for 40 years. Before taking to the airwaves, Banks learned all kinds of music, working at the Wax Museum record store on Lake Street and singing in different groups.

He's been in the studio as KMOJ has grown from a low-power FM station to a Minneapolis staple, hosting shows on almost every genre of music and directing programming.

"Right now today, if I had to take out the trash, that does not bother me," he said.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does it mean to be a black Minnesotan?

Being a black male in the state of Minnesota, there's this thing called "Minnesota Nice," where it hasn't really been defined yet because everyone has their own interpretation of it. 

In the process of that, for me, being a black male and representing the state of Minnesota, I always try to put my best foot forward just  — being human and being a man. And then black stands in front of that because of the color of my skin. So, I'm a black human man.

You know, a lot of times there's that thing of the image of a black male and then what's being presented in front of you. There's always that negative that gets printed ... when you see a picture of a black man, you automatically think that A, B, C and D, [which] applies to everyone. But then the dehumanization of the country is why it looks like that and why it's that way. 

Then you know you when you walk around and you know yourself and then you know that I'm not that person that they say is A, B, C or D, then you have to stand up and speak for yourself. 

So, being a black male and from the state of Minnesota, I'm proud of both of them. But even at the same time, they are together, and that's what creates the history.

What characters have shaped you?

When it starts out, my No. 1 and 2 is my mother and my father. There's no question, hands down. Because of my father, he's one of those that got up every day. He went to work sunup to sundown. He had two and sometimes three jobs at the same time and then sometimes he would take me and my other brothers to those jobs just so that we could see what he does. Seeing all those different angles of work ethics and how proud he was of him — just being him — that gave me that extra step.

And then with my mother, [she] could have very well been a chef and could open any soul food restaurant from here to down south and around the corner because she was one of those cooks.

One of the things about my mom and dad is that, you know, we look at people and their lifestyles and what they do. And there's always the rich, the poor and in-between. Well, I don't know where we stood out between the rich and the poor or the in-between because we were subjected to all of it. 

And so now with my mother and father, we didn't know that we were poor or we didn't have X amount of dollars or whatever because they showed us everything. And the respect factor of that and the way that they presented it cause every one of my family members to understand it and respect it.

What is your vision for the future of black Minnesotans?

The vision for black people is really ownership. And what I mean by ownership is not just owning housing but owning businesses, owning personal respect for each other because a lot of times we hurt ourselves by some of our actions. And for the state of Minnesota ... it doesn't matter what color you are. Black people do exist and we can be owners of companies and owners of businesses.

There's a cultural difference in what exists between people in all cultures. And when it comes to police violence and black violence and corruptness, all of it exists even on the political side. But then there's a thing that we have to come to an understanding of — that we all breathe the same air.

So for me, being a black male in the state of Minnesota is just, stand up and be black and be proud of that because there's been so much negativity that's been thrown at you of what you can't be and what you are not. Everything has been negative. But there's the positive side of when you start looking in the mirror and you see in yourself and you start believing in who you look at in the mirror.