Spokane lawyer, former congressional candidate Natasha Hill announced as editor of relaunched Black Lens

The Black Lens editor Natasha Hill is photographed Nov. 27 near her office inside the Patsy Clark Mansion in Browne’s Addition.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Comma Community Journalism Lab

Natasha Hill had not been involved in activism until she found herself with a bullhorn at the front of a Spokane Black Lives Matter march in the summer of 2020.

“I was focused on my career, my kids. I wasn’t thinking about community beyond my family. I had never stripped back any of the covers of my mask until that moment,” the Spokane lawyer recalled. “But we were there because we saw an injustice and we see injustices in our community all the time.”

Hill will now be tackling those injustices as interim editor of a soon-to-be-relaunched The Black Lens newspaper. Founded by the late Sandy Williams, The Black Lens highlighted Spokane’s Black community and advocated for a more equitable world.

The small monthly paper ran from 2015 to 2022. Hill said she has big shoes to fill as she moves into the editor position in 2024.

“Sandy was an amazing person. And The Black Lens did so much for Spokane,” Hill said. “And since it has been gone, we have a lot of people in our community, especially the Black community, who are doing some amazing things but not always getting spotlighted.”

Like many historically Black newspapers in America, The Black Lens will describe the community as it exists and provide solutions to Spokane’s problems.

“It’s a mix of both reporting and advocacy,” Hill said. “Stories will often include a call to action, while others will just be highlighting the community.”

Upbringing in Hillyard

Growing up in Spokane’s Hillyard Neighborhood, Hill and her three siblings did not have much.

Hill’s biological father was absent and she was around a lot of domestic violence perpetuated against her mother. There was drug use and sex work in her community.

“We grew up really poor. I think a lot of people on the North Side do,” Hill said. Those experiences are the basis for her advocacy today, she added.

“When you grow up like that, there’s no judgment. You get exposed to so many walks of life that it’s hard to judge people.”

Hill also understood the importance of race in Spokane from a young age as a biracial kid being raised in a white family. All of her siblings were treated differently by society based on the shade of their skin, she recalled.

Hill believed education was what could lift her out of poverty. She moved out at 16 and graduated from Rogers High School early. After attending Spokane Community College and the University of Washington in Seattle, Hill had her undergraduate degree by age 20.

Hill then “naïvely” moved to Los Angeles to pursue a law degree. She wanted to live in a more diverse community but was “shocked” at how segregated L.A. is and how that can stunt the cultural understanding of the people who live there.

“There is every culture there. But they’re not together,” she said.

Hill struggled academically and financially as a law student. Her first year, she remembers a professor derisively telling her she should “rethink the family business,” in an apparent reference to sex work.

“You want me to be a ho or a house cleaner or a waitress. I don’t think you know who you’re talking to,” she remembered thinking. “His ignorance as this privileged white man professor was a fire under me.”

Finding activism while moving home

Working 10 years as a lawyer in California, Hill moved back to Spokane in 2018 after having her second child and splitting with her children’s father.

Founding her own law firm in 2019, politics and activism were far from her mind until the summer of 2020. Hill had not intended to go to the Black Lives Matter protests that morning, but her sister came with signs and they went to the courthouse.

Seeing thousands of people prepared to march for Black lives was “completely shocking” to Hill.

“I had never seen that in my community until that day,” Hill recalled.

She suddenly believed the world could change. That Spokane could change.

But she was devastated upon the realization that the moment after George Floyd’s death was just a moment and dissipated quickly.

“Everybody shut their doors, because they don’t care,” Hill said of powerful interests in Spokane, who signaled their support for reform before taking it away.

“They don’t care. And I know they don’t care because I’m a professional who was in their circles, who sat at their tables, who went on the retreats, who hung out in their social circles. Yeah, they listen. And they turn around and they do nothing,” she said.

After that moment, Hill dedicated herself to advocacy and politics. It was something she “never would have done” in California. It was not her community.

But Spokane is.

She served on a committee that redrew boundaries for the commissioner districts and got involved with organizations like the local NAACP. When no one stepped up to run against Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Hill raised her hand.

Hill ended up losing that race to McMorris Rodgers in the overwhelmingly Republican 5th Congressional District by nearly 20 percentage points. Recalling the race a year later, the scars of the election loss still seemed fresh.

“The only thing so many people could see was that I was Black,” Hill said through tears – pointing to constant questions about how a Black woman could connect to and represent rural, white voters in Eastern Washington.

“To be told that you can’t connect to where you’re from and to the type of people who raised you because you’re Black is devastating,” she said.

The Black Lens

As editor of The Black Lens, Hill says she will not step away from the hard questions raised during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Racial discrimination, police harassment and equity will all be issues featured heavily in new editions.

Hill herself has not stayed away from these topics in her activism. In her 2022 congressional campaign she faced criticism over her support of the Black Lives Matter movement and previous calls to defund the police.

In recent weeks, Hill has been among local activists calling for a ceasefire of the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East and stood in support at a Spokane City Council meeting last month over opposition to a previously passed council resolution supporting Israel in the conflict.

According to Hill, the City Council had “only heard one side” when drafting their resolution.

“We cannot sit back and ignore history and we can’t just sit by and allow genocide,” Hill said. “And I think we can take a stand on these moral issues without picking a side.”

The Black Lens will not solely focus on these controversies. It will also highlight accomplishments and feel-good stories in Spokane’s Black community and other marginalized communities in the city.

“We need a lot of joy when we have a lot of trauma,” she said.

Once it launches early next year, The Black Lens will have a larger print circulation, a new website that updates consistently, and free syndication to other news organizations across the Pacific Northwest.

The publication will launch in February next year as part of Black History Month. In the meantime, Hill will lead a search for a full-time racial and social-equity reporter.

Hill said she was “honored” to be chosen as editor and hopes to live up to Williams’ memory .

This story was originally published in The Spokesman-Review.