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Samantha Willis

Journalist, Writer, Co-Creator of the Unmasking Series

Location icon United States

Samantha Willis is an independent journalist and writer with a decade of print, digital, and broadcast media experience. Her work has appeared in publications including Glamour Magazine, Essence Magazine, HuffPost Life, Scalawag Magazine, and the Columbia Journalism Review, and within a wide range of Virginia-based media including WRIC ABC 8News, NBC 12 News, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia Mercury, and VPM (Virginia's Home for Public Media).

Willis' writing has earned multiple awards. Most recently, in April 2020, Willis earned a Virginia Press Association first place award for specialty arts writing, for her feature story on a University of Richmond photo exhibition in which city residents shared their lived experiences during the Civl Rights Era. In April 2019, her feature article about Brook Field Park, where Arthur Ashe first discovered and honed his love for tennis, helped Richmond Magazine win the Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service from the Virginia Press Association; it is the highest award the organization bestows. Willis has presented her work at conferences of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), World Information Architecture Day, and the University of Michigan's School of Environment & Sustainability.

Willis' writing consistently centers African American history, culture and perspectives. Her reporting explores contemporary issues of interest to Black Americans – like maternal health disparities which disproportionately impact Black mothers, and environmental justice campaigns responding to large-scale petrochemical pollution in majority-Black communities in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley." Samantha elevates the historical significance of Virginia's Black-built communities including Jackson Ward in Richmond, Ziontown in Henrico County, and Vinegar Hill in Charlottesville. She has interviewed a plethora of African American history-makers: groundbreaking NASA engineer Dr. Christine Darden and "Hidden Figures" author Margot Shetterly; legendary pianist Herbie Hancock; visual artist Howardena Pindell; Freedom Rider and wife of the late Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker Theresa Walker; and civil rights activist Esther Cooper Jackson, among others.

In 2016, while working full time as arts editor at Richmond Magazine, Samantha co-created the Unmasking Series, a multi-day, anti-racism dialogue and workshop program. The series began in Richmond after a blackface scandal rocked the city (#UnmaskingRVA) and continued in Charlottesville (#UnmaskingCville) in June 2018, nearly a year after white supremacist groups brought deadly violence to the city. In partnership with Virginia Humanities and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, Willis developed and presented an Unmasking program in the south Hampton Roads region in October and November 2019.

A graduate of Hanover County Public Schools, Willis studied English and Creative Writing at Radford University. She is a member of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, and a member of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Community Advisory Board. Willis lives in central Virginia with her husband Jamaal and three sons.

Portfolio
Virginia Tourism Corporation
05/24/2021
But Did You Know: Jackson Ward & Richmond's Pre-Eminent Black History - Virginia's Travel Blog

As the birthplace or adopted home of many African American artists, activists, and achievers whose contributions have shaped and strengthened the nation, Virginia is a veritable treasure trove of Black history. From Lynchburg-born astronaut Leland Melvin, to pioneering civil rights attorney and son of Richmond Oliver Hill, to Olympic gold medalist and Virginia Beach's own [...]

Style Weekly
05/25/2021
A Vision in Black

From folk art to hip hop, VMFA’s “The Dirty South” is a wide-ranging meditation on Black culture and creativity.

Richmond Times-Dispatch
04/18/2021
The Hughes House embodies the spirit of historic Jackson Ward, and stands as a beacon of hope for...

The Hughes family peers through time in a 1924 photograph, poised on the steps of their stately Jackson Ward residence at 508 St. James St. Dr. William Hughes - who piloted Richmond's Black community through the 1918 global influenza pandemic, and was Maggie Walker's longtime personal physician - sits self-assured, an open book in hand, his wife, Anne, nestled by his side and their daughters Grace and Helen flanking them.

Scalawag
04/06/2021
Freedom wasn't given-it was seized

In 1867, grandmother Cyntha Nickols sat down to write a letter to the government for help in finding her kin: She seems to speak these words from the grave, each of them laced with longing, her tone aching with concern for her young grandson who was being kept in the clutches of the white man who had formerly owned her family.

Vinegar Hill Magazine
03/16/2021
Still Determined: A Chance for Redemption - Vinegar Hill Magazine

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Dr. Max Luna of the UVA Latino Health Initiative reflect on the virus' lasting legacy in the region, and the path forward By Samantha Willis | Photos by Lorenzo Dickerson | Artwork by Sahara Clemons Mayor Nikuyah Walker is comfortable speaking uncomfortable truths.

Scalawag
08/05/2019
The Departed and Dismissed of Richmond

This is the first of a two-part series on the fate of the Grave Yard for Free People of Color and Slaves in Richmond, Virginia. It is dark and noisy beneath the towering pillars holding Interstate 64 over what looks like wasted space near 5th and Hospital Streets in Richmond, Virginia.

richmondmagazine.com
07/01/2019
Thinking While Black

In May, when technology billionaire Robert Johnson relieved the Morehouse College class of 2019's $40 million dollars of student loan debt, the country first applauded - and then started asking questions: Why is college so expensive, and is it unfairly so?

Columbia Journalism Review
02/22/2019
Virginia blackface scandal: Journalists share their experiences

On February 4, Virginia residents gathered outside the governor's mansion in Richmond to call for Ralph Northam's resignation. A racist image from his medical school yearbook page had surfaced on a right-wing news site. Soon, Northam and General Mark Herring, the attorney general, admitted to wearing blackface.

Glamour
06/29/2018
Thomas Jefferson Owned Hundreds of Slaves-Now a Black Woman Will Run His Foundation

She is long dead, but the presence of Sally Hemings looms larger than life at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the plantation where she was enslaved for most of her life and where a $35 million restoration of the grounds made way for the "Life of Sally Hemings" exhibit-a modest room tucked away in a wing of the great mansion that curators hope will encompass the story of a woman whose life and legacy was often ignored in history, lest it mar a great man's legacy.

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