The Black Lens, Spokane’s Black newspaper, will return in February

Comma Community Journalism Lab

Spokane’s only Black newspaper is set to relaunch early next year – this time with a much wider distribution and a new website.

After a two-year hiatus, the first edition of the new Black Lens will come out on Feb. 4 inside The Spokesman-Review and in free magazine racks across town. Organizers said the paper’s website would be live in early January, and that the website and rack papers would be available at no cost.

Founded by civil rights activist Sandy Williams in 2015, the monthly publication ran for seven years. Williams paused publication of The Black Lens in early 2022 to focus on opening the Carl Maxey Center, a Black community resource organization she founded in the East Central Neighborhood.

“As a voice for a people that have felt ignored and overlooked and abandoned for so very long,” Williams wrote in her final column, “I am aware that the absence of the paper will symbolically be much more than just not having something to make time to read each month.”

She intended to restart The Black Lens in early 2023, before she died in a plane crash in September 2022.

A group of families, businesses and organizations helped establish the Sandy Williams Black Lens fund, hosted by the Innovia Foundation, to bring it back. The nonprofit newspaper will be based at Gonzaga University with some production assistance from current and former members of The Spokesman-Review staff who have volunteered their time, but will be independent from Gonzaga and The Spokesman-Review.

Spokane lawyer and activist Natasha Hill was selected as interim editor to help launch the publication and to lead the search for a full-time reporter, and eventually a full-time editor.

Hill said she is honored to be a part of something so important and to fill the shoes of such a legend.

“My focus is to pick up the legacy that Sandy started and bring in as many folks as I can, so our paper has the voices of our Black community,” Hill said.

By the end of her one-year commitment, Hill hopes to find a career journalist who can take over long term and make it their dream job.

“The role I’m filling right now is to keep the paper going, so we can secure funding and get all the pieces together to ensure its longevity,” she said.

Sandy’s brother Rick Williams recalled how she was inspired to start The Black Lens by conversations with their father shortly before he died. He urged her to not give up on writing.

“Sandy was an amazing storyteller,” Rick Williams said.

She wanted to tell stories about Black people in Spokane that counter typical narratives portrayed in the media and to tell those stories from a Black perspective, not just for Black readers, but for the entire community, Rick Williams said. He hopes The Black Lens 2.0 will expand its reach and fall into the hands of more people.

The periodical’s absence has left a void, Hill said.

The Black Lens was a voice for the disenfranchised, a source of inspiration, a way to stay informed and engaged. It also fostered community as it highlighted events and promoted Black-owned businesses through advertisements and listings. The new Black Lens website will include a constantly updated database of Black-owned businesses throughout this region, as well as an events calendar that will be updated daily.

While East Central has been a hub for Black businesses in Spokane, Black residents are dispersed throughout the city, Hill said.

The Black Lens was and will continue to be a way for people to find each other.

It will still publish opinion columns, Hill said, but it will have a stronger focus on covering issues relevant to the Black community.

And when it comes back, it will have a fresh look.

One of Williams’ goals was to update the logo and some of the design elements of the newspaper. Now, The Black Lens title is bolder – in starkly contrasting black and red.

The monthly paper will be a larger broadsheet size, rather than the smaller tabloid-sized format.

Readers will eventually be able to subscribe to have the print edition of the paper mailed to them, while the website will be updated more often as articles are finished, and with breaking news.

The Feb. 4 relaunch will coincide with Black History Month and with the Spokane Black Voices event that evening at the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center at Gonzaga. The annual Northwest Passages event features creative submissions by local Black students. The 2024 theme is Black Joy: An Aspirational Mindset. Tickets for the 7 p.m. event can be reserved early next year.

The Northwest Passages event series will provide all of the infrastructure and marketing for the publication’s new public forums and events.

Rick Williams said all of his sister’s projects – The Black Lens, the Carl Maxey Center and a free legal clinic called the Sandy Williams Justice Center – will continue to educate and inspire all the residents of Spokane.

“We hope Spokane will continue to support and value them as community assets,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in The Spokesman-Review. It was updated on Jan. 12, 2024, to correct the publication date of the newly launched Black Lens.