Spokane's Black Lens newspaper relaunches in print and continues work of activist Sandy Williams

click to enlarge Spokane's Black Lens newspaper relaunches in print and continues work of activist Sandy Williams
Madison Pearson photo
The Black Lens' February 2024 issue.

Sandy Williams was a self-proclaimed storyteller and activist, so it was no surprise that she started the Black Lens newspaper in 2015 after noticing a gap in the coverage of issues impacting Spokane's Black community.

For seven years, Williams published the independent paper on the first of each month and hand-delivered copies to locations throughout Spokane's Black community. This included churches, community centers, restaurants, businesses, libraries and more. The paper published Black-focused stories that were of specific importance and relevance to the Inland Northwest's Black community.

After Williams and her partner died in a Puget Sound plane crash in September 2022, the paper went on hiatus, but today Williams' story and work is being carried on through the long-awaited relaunch of the Black Lens.

At a press conference on Friday, Feb. 2, the newspaper was officially relaunched with Washington U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Black Lens editor Natasha Hill, Spokane City Council President Betsy Wilkerson and members of Williams' family in attendance.

"When we lost our dear friend Sandy there was a void of communication in our city," Wilkerson said. "A void amongst Black people. There was a real disconnect, and we were all lost. But now, it's back."

The relaunch is in partnership with the Spokesman-Review. All future editions of the Black Lens will be distributed along with the Spokesman on the first Sunday of each month. The publication is visually similar to the Spokesman and printed by the same Cowles family-owned facility, Northwest Offset Printing, but is editorially independent from the Spokesman.

"Sandy had a long list of places that she would hand-distribute to," Hill said. "We will continue to honor that and distribute to churches and other organizations."

click to enlarge Spokane's Black Lens newspaper relaunches in print and continues work of activist Sandy Williams (2)
Madison Pearson photo
Sen. Maria Cantwell (left) and Natasha Hill, editor of the Black Lens.

Sen. Cantwell, who introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act in 2021, began by paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson: "As long as the presses can be protected, our citizens may be advised, and presses can protect what we know can be trusted information."

"Papers we know in other parts of our state like Yakima and Walla Walla are now only printed three days a week," Cantwell said. "This situation is truly dire, so what is being pulled off here today is monumental."

The Black Lens will operate out of Gonzaga University as a partner of Comma Journalism Labs, a new local nonprofit news organization with its own board of directors that is separate from Gonzaga and the Black Lens.

The paper's board of directors is comprised of Robert Lloyd, Renika Williams (Sandy Williams' daughter), Alethea Dumas, Michael Bethely, Luc Jasmin III and Rick Williams (Sandy Williams' brother).

When asked about the goal of the Black Lens going forward, Hill said that carrying Williams' legacy forward is at the forefront.

"We have to pay tribute and respect to our founder and everything she did to bring this to life," she said. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the blessing and the work of the Williams family. We're so honored to be able to work with the family on this and ensure that Sandy's mission is met and that this paper continues to live and to thrive here in the Spokane community."

Find the Black Lens at blacklensnews.com

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Madison Pearson

Madison Pearson is the Inlander's Listings Editor, managing the calendar of events and covering everything from libraries to mermaid pods for the Arts & Culture section of the paper. She joined the staff in 2022 after completing a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Washington University.