The Black Lens relaunches with February issue
By Mary Stamp
The Black Lens newspaper relaunches for Black History Month in February.
The interim editor, attorney Natasha Hill, is slowing the caseload of her legal practice to work with board members, The Spokesman-Review, Comma and contributors to produce the first issue since editor/founder Sandy Williams' death in September 2022.
"I wondered if we would have enough copy, but with Black History Month we will have a strong emphasis on black history, including the historic election of Betsy Wilkerson as the first black woman City Council president. The NAACP Spokane is swearing in a new president, Lisa Gardner.
"Many people don't even know that Spokane had a black mayor, Jim Chase, (1982 to 1986)," she added.
"The city recently voted for justice not to build a new jail, so we will have reports on that," she said.
The February issue will also tell about Sandy's life and issues on her radar.
"Like Sandy, we will be direct and not afraid to talk about issues," she said.
The Black Lens' national and local search was unable to find a new editor to succeed Sandy.
Natasha may lack journalist experience but is committed to carry on the legacy of advocacy for the Black community and to uplift the positive elements of Black culture, art, music, events and more.
She and the board, which recently welcomed four members—Bob Lloyd, Luc Jasmin III, Alethea Dumas and Mike Betheley—to serve along with Sandy's brother Rick Williams, who lives in California, and daughter Renika Williams, who lives on the East Coast, have set up an independent nonprofit.
"The Williams family appreciates what Sandy started and wants to continue it," Natasha said.
Along with overseeing content, she will build the structure to provide longevity.
Natasha has been practicing law since graduating from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles in 2006. After passing the bar in 2007, she practiced law for 10 years in Los Angeles. She returned to Spokane, first working with an established firm and then setting up her own practice in 2019. Her practice includes civil litigation, contract and employment disputes, family law, business formation and entertainment.
Housing costs in Los Angeles led her to return to Spokane, where she grew up in the Hillyard neighborhood and graduated from Rogers High School in 2000. With Running Start credits, she had completed an associate degree at Spokane Falls Community College in 2001 and then completed a degree in sociology at the University of Washington in 2003, before going to Southwestern Law School.
"With COVID and the resurgence of civil rights after the murder of George Floyd, I worked from home to be with my two children," said Natasha, who became involved with community and school issues through the NAACP Spokane.
Natasha focused on policy changes in the schools to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that often catches students of color, low-income students, and students with special needs.
"For example, we advocated for changes to isolation and restraint policies—locking kids in rooms and physically restraining them," she said. "Touching special needs students, such as those with autism, may escalate an issue.
"After COVID, kids had already been isolated, and there was funding to address the school-to-prison pipeline and the use of resource officers or police in schools," said Natasha, who worked with community organizations and parent groups like Every Student Counts Alliance to develop policies.
That drew her into the Democratic Party. She was appointed by state legislators to the Spokane County Redistricting Committee that held hearings on expanding from three to five districts.
Gaining public recognition in the process, Natasha ran against Cathy McMorris Rogers to represent the fifth Congressional district in 2022, seeking to address the civil rights of the region.
"We are an area with a history of hate from the Aryan Nations and beyond. They were visible when I was growing up. We do not want hate groups," said Natasha.
"My values come from my grandmother, a hard-working. independent woman who married at 16 and divorced by her 30s. She owned her own home and raised her children and mixed grandchildren in the midst of racism.
"We have a Christian background and went to church but went to white churches in Spokane Valley, which did not welcome us as brown children. Christians are not the only ones who do good things. Some family members were in sex trade and did drugs. I learned not to judge but to put my feet in others' shoes before judging them.
"I learned that their choices did not mean they had no worth. I also learned they can change. I learned how important redemption is, seeing that people who make bad choices can change their lives and make amends," Natasha said. "What is important was to maintain family and community relationships and a sense of belonging.
"People who screw up need opportunities to make amends. People are not defined by their faults," she continued. "In law and civil litigation, people are able to win monetary damages. Accountability is important, such as when there is wage theft or discrimination by employers.
"There needs to be a balance of power to give individuals the opportunity to hold corporations accountable and recover damages," she said. "By holding people accountable we can create changes in the system and have redemption. Monetary damages do not make someone whole, so creating accountability is important."
Natasha has taken on the interim editor role with The Black Lens to give voice to people who do not have resources.
"If a newspaper is run by advertising and profit, its voice may be influenced," she said. "If it's supported by people, we can use the power of the pen to give opportunities for people to get their voice out and to collectively organize."
To help with finances, Innovia Foundation is providing major funding while The Black Lens secures long-term sponsors. The Black Lens is also working with Comma, which is set up with the Spokesman-Review as a nonprofit to secure funding as a strategic partner with The Black Lens and to support other local journalism efforts.
"We will do some ads but keep ads below market level so local people can afford to advertise," Natasha explained.
Subscribers and sponsors will be a base of funding.
The Black Lens will be printed and distributed through the Spokesman-Review's circulation of 60,000, half in print and half online. The Black Lens will also have independent distribution and a website.
Spokesman staff will assist with layout and developing article ideas that will be written by reporters and contributors.
The Spokesman-Review will hire a full-time race and equity reporter.
The Black Lens is also reaching out to the NAACP Spokane, Carl Maxey Center, the black queer community, former African-American Voice editor Bob Lloyd and others to contribute stories. There is much content to report with the legislative session, business and economic issues, black churches, African-American arts and culture, food, restaurants and music.
"There is much bringing joy to our community," Natasha said. "There is much to feel good about in ways that bring the community together."
The first issue will be 12 full-size pages and include a black business directory and directory of African-American churches and services.
Rather than distributing it in person as Sandy did, Natasha plans to pay community members or students to help distribute it.
The website will include the monthly content, a news feed, regular updates, community events and urgent news. The Spokesman is offering high school internships for black students who areinterested in reporting and publishing, and are good at social media.
The Black Lens Launch Party is from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 2, at the Steam Plant, with an after party in their Game Room from 8 to 10 p.m.
For the long term, Comma and Gonzaga University will partner to build a newsroom on campus with shared space and resources—creative commons for collaboration with students at Gonzaga, Whitworth and Eastern Washington Universities.