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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sandy Williams left a legacy with the Black Lens newspaper. Now, a new fund will relaunch its publication by the end of 2023.

From staff reports

This past week, a wide-ranging group of local families, regional organizations, businesses and institutions announced the formation of the Sandy Williams Black Lens fund, hosted at the Innovia Foundation. The new fund’s core mission is to restart publication of Williams’ Black Lens newspaper by the end of the year.

Williams died in a plane crash in September along with her partner, Patricia Hicks.

Organizers said the reborn Black Lens news organization would continue the original mission of Williams’ publication and also would expand upon it by adding substantially increased print circulation for The Black Lens; a constantly updated website with an emphasis on mobile and email capabilities; a new syndication system that will provide the organization’s news content and columns to other news organizations across the Pacific Northwest and nation at no charge; mentors for young journalists at the high school and collegiate levels; and annual public events and forums across the region.

The fund’s founding donors include Sandy Williams’ family, the Inatai Foundation, Elsa and Dan Distelhorst, Premera Blue Cross and the Innovia Foundation. Innovia also is hosting the fund.

Gonzaga University will become the new home for The Black Lens’ reporters and editors. Past and current members of The Spokesman-Review newsroom will provide editing and production services for both the print and digital versions of The Black Lens, and the Northwest Passages event series will provide all of the infrastructure and marketing for the publication’s new public forums and events.

“The Black Lens shared a point of view and a perspective on living in Spokane as an African American,” Sandy’s brother Rick Williams said on behalf of the family. “Through the pages of The Black Lens, Sandy shared her voice, wisdom and frustration in the hopes of making Spokane the place it could be – a place that cares for all of its citizens, a place where inequalities in health, wealth, education, food access, legal services and opportunities are acknowledged and confronted.”

“The Williams family – working with Rob Curley, the Inatai Foundation, Elsa Distelhorst, the Innovia foundation and so many others across this community – is committed to relaunching The Black Lens to give the African American community and other communities of color their voice back,” Rick Williams said. “Bringing The Black Lens back will enable us to continue Sandy’s desire of showcasing the businesses, the leadership, the passion and the successes of our community.”

Williams said there was another key desire in bringing back his sister’s signature publication.

“We are also excited to relaunch The Black Lens because of our belief in and support for local journalism and the role local papers play in helping a community thrive,” he said.

Spokesman-Review Editor Rob Curley said because of that particular emphasis, The Black Lens will likely play a much larger role in the region’s journalism landscape than anyone could imagine.

“The Black Lens is about to become one of the cornerstones of one of the most ambitious efforts in the nation to help local journalism not only survive, but thrive,” Curley said. “A community should own its stories in the same way that communities own their parks, libraries, schools, roads and all of the other things that make a city all that it is.

“A massive effort is underway to help Spokane create one of the first large-scale, community-funded and community-owned news organizations of this type in the nation. That The Black Lens would be so integral to making that happen is a testament to the power and importance of Sandy’s vision and mission.”

Curley said more specific details about the return of The Black Lens will be released this summer, and the first focus is to hire a full-time editor for the publication who also will help lead coverage aimed at amplifying other diverse voices and cultural issues. He said efforts also have started to fill the racial and social-equity reporter position that was previously funded through donations from the Michael Conley Charitable Fund and the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund.

Sandy Williams began publishing the Black Lens in 2015. After five years of publication, she said she was surprised it lasted. It never earned her a steady salary amid some of the same financial pressures afflicting newspapers across the county.

But Williams kept it going to reflect Black voices and perspectives in Spokane. And despite the struggle, 1,300 copies were printed. About 225 customers paid for a mailed copy of the 24-page publication in 2020.

“Sandra Williams was a fierce and unapologetic truth-teller who stepped up when those with far more institutional power and resources fell short,” said Nichole June Maher, president and CEO of the Inatai Foundation. “She once told us: ‘I love Black people. And so my life’s work is to use whatever privilege I have, whatever knowledge I have, whatever access to power I have to provide opportunities that will uplift and support Black people.’ ”

To make a tax-deductible donation, scan the accompanying QR code with your mobile device, which will take you to the Innovia donation site, or donate by visiting, or by calling Innovia directly at (509) 624-2606.