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The Black Lens covers the positive to counter negative news on blacks

Believing mainstream media coverage of news important to diverse communities is usually inadequate, Sandra Williams started The Black Lens, a local monthly newspaper focusing on Spokane’s African-American community.  The first issue was published in January 2015.

Sandra Williams, editor, The Black Lens
Sandra Williams publishes The Black Lens

“My goal was to cover the positive and counter negative, narrow news that implies blacks are criminals, entertainers or athletes,” she said.  “I seek to do human interest and soft news.”

She seeks to break through stereotypes about blacks and to highlight the positive accomplishments of Spokane’s African Americans.

Aware she could not keep up with daily news in a monthly publication, Sandra did not expect to cover hard news, but events swayed her to include a “black lens” on events that developed.

In May, a newspaper headline said, “Man dies in jail.”  There was no mention that Lorenzo Hayes, the father of seven who died in police custody, was black. 

Because she has served two years on the State Commission on African American Affairs and was recently appointed to the Mayor’s Advisory Council for Multicultural Affairs, she was among community leaders invited to a private briefing.

Sandra, who has a background in addressing discrimination, oppression, equity and social justice, opted not to go if she could not report about it.  So she waited and talked to people who went.  In the silence about Lorenzo’s death, she followed up and learned that the coroner ruled it a homicide.

Then in June came the report that Rachel Dolezal, a leader in the black community, was a white woman, identifying as black.

“In the media storm on that, I watched progress for the black community be wiped away by a focus on her race rather than what she was doing,” Sandra said.  “It was a distraction to news of Rachel’s being kicked off the Office of the Police Ombudsman (OPO) and two others resigning.”

Sandra said dynamics of the story warrant more conversation.

“I was told early that if everyone is looking to the right, an activist should look to the left, and visa versa, to be aware of what is going on behind the scenes.

“The black community needed to know what was happening so we would not be impacted negatively by the fuss over her race,” she said.  “The community was divided.  The adage is:  divide and conquer.  Leadership in the community was damaged.  Now leaders are regrouping.

“The City of Spokane said they received a report about misconduct.  Looking at the report, I did not see the misconduct they claimed, but within 24 hours Rachel was ousted, and two others resigned without due process.

“We need a home-based newspaper to report what is happening,” said Sandra.  “Someone needs to speak up.  The community is used to having no voice.”

She has also written about complaints from the East Central neighborhood on East Central Community Center’s management, funding and programs.  Bringing her weight as editor, she reported that people felt they were being priced out of the center and no one in the city was listening. 

In July, after a black man, William Poindexter, was shot in the back, Sandra ran a photo from the alleged shooter’s Facebook page, showing him holding an AK-47.

Sandra wants people to speak with a unified voice so they can make a difference.  She did not intend to ignore controversial issues, but expected to have more emphasis on soft, positive news.

In June, Sandra left her job of five years as coordinator of Eastern Washington University’s Pride Center for LGBTQ students to work full time on The Black Lens.  She started the newspaper while helping take care of her father, who was ill.

When she was 12, her father came to Spokane to teach in Gonzaga University’s ROTC department, and her parents stayed. 

Sandra earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Washington State University (WSU) in 1983 and did social service nonprofit jobs in Los Angeles, returning to Spokane to visit family and to work. 

After her daughter, Renika, was born in Spokane, Sandra returned to work in Los Angeles.  She came back in 1990 for six years for a job with People of Color Against AIDS Network. It gave her connections in Spokane’s communities of color.

Then Sandra returned to Los Angeles and completed a master’s degree in film/television production in 1995 at the University of Southern California.  She worked six years with an African-American woman director who produces an African-American TV show, “City of Angels” and other TV shows.

“I had believed Hollywood was a magical place creating magical content to educate and uplift people.  I was na├»ve and grew to hate Hollywood.  I went to film school to tell stories that would uplift people,” Sandra said.

When Renika left for college, Sandra returned to Spokane in 2005 to be field coordinator for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, doing school-based peer education and community training on teen stress and depression, and strategies for suicide prevention.

She then was executive director of Odyssey Youth Center, serving Spokane’s LGBTQ youth.  Two years later, she started working at the EWU Pride Center.

For four years, she did a bi-monthly program, “Revolutionary Spirituality,” for KYRS Radio 92.3 FM.  Her show explored religious and spiritual diversity she had not known. 

“Having worked on sexual orientation, racism, sexism and other isms, I was fascinated how organized religion and spirituality relate to oppression,” she said.

Her mother was Baptist and her father, Methodist.  Growing up in South Carolina, she had to go to church.  Sandra, who attends New Hope Baptist with her mother, now has a strong connection to spirituality and the black church but is wary of organized religion. 

In Los Angeles, she found Unity Fellowship Church, a black church that set aside judgmental dogma, especially against gays, and that emphasized God’s love. 

“The pastor preached love for everyone,” she said.  “That helped me cement my spirituality.”

When people in the black community began to talk about the need for a black newspaper as a place to talk with each other and focus on issues, Sandra consulted with Bob Lloyd, who had edited The African American Voice, until 1990.  He gave his blessing.

When Sandra’s father, Thomas, was sick last fall, she took time off from EWU.  While sitting with him, she learned how to do newspaper design on her laptop.  She began her first articles on the Spokane Police Use of Force Report and on the East Central Community Center.

By December, she had written all the articles for the first issue.  The second issue was hard because her father died on Feb. 9. 

Incorporated as a for-profit publication, The Black Lens circulates through black churches and businesses.  People are subscribing, businesses are advertising, and more writers are contributing. 

The July issue covered WSU President Elson Floyd’s death, Denise Osei’s retirement from Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane’s Juneteenth on the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery. It reported on the Southeast Day Care Center, EWU’s Africana Studies and an NAACP candidates forum.  There are columns and national news.

The September issue covered the experience of African Americans in Spokane schools.  In October, local candidates will respond to questions about the African American community.

For information, call 795-1964 or email

Copyright © October 2015 - The Fig Tree