As Sandra Williams sat by her father’s sickbed, the hours ticked by slowly.
“Dad wasn’t much of a talker,” she said.
It was enough for both of them to simply be together. But during those quiet hours, an idea took shape and sprang into life – Williams would publish a newspaper.
“There used to be a black paper in Spokane in the ’90s called the African American Voice,” said Williams. “There’s been no black newspaper or publication since.”
The Cheney High School graduate earned a psychology degree from Washington State University before moving out of the area. She’s lived from Colorado to California and moved back to Spokane six years ago to be near her family.
While watching coverage of a local news story on television, she wondered how the story would look if it had been told by a black journalist.
She said she thought to herself, “I bet the perspective would be different. I bet who they interviewed would be different and I bet the overall message would be different.”
So she decided to do something about it. In January 2015, the first issue of The Black Lens: News from a Different Perspective hit the stands.
“It was daunting, but I love writing,” she said. “I’m familiar with the community. I’m aware of the vacuum.”
But even the vacuum gave her pause. “Who am I to speak on behalf of the black community, to be their voice?” she asked.
The first cover featured the use of force report that had recently been released by the Justice Department. The headline read “Use of force by Spokane police ‘not racially biased’ but blacks 2% of Spokane population; 10% use of force incidents.”
She’d found her voice.
Her father, Thomas Williams, died on Feb. 7, 2015.
“I wrote the first two issues at his bedside,” Williams said. “I think absent him being sick I probably wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have sat still long enough.”
She shook her head. “That third issue was really hard to do.”
Each issue of the monthly newspaper contains an article about black history, culture, or influential people in a feature called You Should Know.
“Part of my reason for publishing is to educate people,” Williams said.
In addition, she features black news highlights from local, state, national and world sources.
“Stuff you wouldn’t hear about in mainstream media,” she said.
While she subscribes to two wire services, local news has been harder to come by.
“Part of the challenge is our community isn’t used to sharing ourselves,” Williams explained.
She’s most proud of the It Takes a Village section, spotlighting area people and their accomplishments.
“This is what I want the paper to be about.”
The Black Lens includes an opinion section and a new regular column, Thoughts from a Grandmother has proven popular. Williams would like to have more personal columns.
“People assume all black people think and act alike,” she said. “But we are very diverse.”
The newspaper also features a section called In the Spirit about news and happenings in local black churches.
“The church is how our community connects with each other,” she said.
Every month, those churches are the first place Williams drops off new editions of The Black Lens.
In June, Williams left her position at EWU’s Pride Center to devote herself to the newspaper full time.
A little more than a year after its launch, the paper has grown from 12 pages to 20. The news sections have expanded and local artist Bertoni Jones has taken the helm of the You Should Know section, providing original art and articles. The annual subscription rate is $45.
Earlier this month The Black Lens hosted Words and Images of Blackness at Auntie’s Bookstore. The event featured local black writers and artists, and Williams said she’d like to sponsor more events like this to highlight the creativity of the black community and to foster connection.
She also hopes more local writers will submit items. As publisher, editor, writer and delivery person her days are full.
“People have offered to do the deliveries, but I like making the rounds,” she said. “I like the face-to-face interactions. The acceptance feels like validation.”
Local journalism is essential.
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