Samantha Willis

Samantha Willis

Samantha Willis, a writer and journalist whose experience in digital, print and broadcast media spans 12 years, is Commentary and Deputy Editor at the Virginia Mercury. Her work has appeared in leading publications including Glamour Magazine, Essence Magazine, Scalawag Magazine, and the Columbia Journalism Review, and within a wide range of Virginia-based media.


Studies, class-action suit link hair relaxers to cancer; Black women in Virginia are at risk

By: - November 20, 2023

When I saw reports about a National Institutes of Health study that found women who used chemical hair straighteners known as relaxers were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who didn’t, a sulfur-scented flashback zapped me back to my first experience getting my hair relaxed. I was 10 or 11, […]


This Virginia teen is saving our skin

By: - November 10, 2023

More than 7,300 miles separate Virginia from Ethiopia, the birthplace of Hemen Bekele, a Fairfax teen newly named “America’s Top Young Scientist” for his potentially groundbreaking invention of skin cancer-fighting soap. Despite the distance, Bekele keeps his homeland close to his heart and credits it as his inspiration for creating a soap designed to treat […]


Hanover school board referendum is an opportunity to see democracy in action

By: - October 23, 2023

In November, Hanover County voters will answer a question that sounds simple but could be the precursor of a historic shift in the way the county oversees the education of its 17,000 public school students: “Shall the method of selecting the school board be changed from appointment by the governing body to direct election by […]


On the road again: Regaining driving privileges sets Virginians up for success

By: - October 13, 2023

It’s the morning of your first day at a new job, the first job you’ve had in a few years and one you desperately need. You rise, get dressed, scarf down some cereal and, if you’re very lucky, fire up your computer to work remotely. If you’re less lucky — or if you just prefer […]


Va.’s fifth casino isn’t a sure bet — and citizens’ views on it aren’t black and white

By: - October 6, 2023

Richmond city leaders really, really want a casino. So much so that they resurrected an effort to build a sprawling, $562 million entertainment emporium that Richmond voters killed in 2021.  Voters will have another chance to yea or nay the casino in November’s general election after Richmond City Council voted June 12 to put the […]


In Harrisonburg, reconnecting Northeast will help heal urban renewal’s old wounds

By: - September 22, 2023

Before 1960, Harrisonburg’s Northeast neighborhood was a vibrant, predominantly Black community filled with homes, businesses and families striving toward a brighter future during the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement.  But starting in the 1960s, the dreams and progress of many of those Northeast families were crushed by the city’s urban renewal projects, which destroyed […]


Much of the maligning of Susanna Gibson is rooted in misogyny

By: - September 15, 2023

You’ve probably heard Susanna Gibson’s name mentioned a lot this week.  Headlines blared the torrid news about Gibson, a Democratic candidate running to represent the 57th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates: She performed sex acts with her husband for an online audience and asked viewers to chip in tips, a violation of porn site […]


40 acres and then some

By: - August 21, 2023

On a scorching August day in Southside Richmond, beneath a wooden pergola at Sankofa Community Orchard, Duron Chavis finds a bit of shade and respite from decades of figurative mountain moving in the name of food and social justice, climate resilience and Black liberation.  “This is a place of peace and a healing space,” Chavis […]


Henrietta Lacks’ family finally got their due; many more never will

By: - August 7, 2023

The descendants of Virginia-born miracle woman Henrietta Lacks finally won a major settlement with a biotechnology company that profited billions from Lacks’ ever-reproducing cells; I congratulate them. The hard-won settlement is a glimmer of justice flashing within a dark facet of America’s medical and scientific progress, fields fueled by racist, unethical practices in the past […]


Out with the green, in with the heat

By: - August 1, 2023

When I visited the Hickory Hill Community Center last week in Richmond’s Southside, the first thing I noticed was the pervasive presence of the Richmond Fire Department. RFD vehicles filled the parking lot and a polite, fresh-faced young fireman ushered me into the red brick building that, in its previous life, was the first high […]


The Indian Child Welfare Act is a cornerstone of Virginia tribal sovereignty

By: - July 12, 2023

The Supreme Court of the United States last month upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law designed to protect Native American children and keep them connected to their heritage. Four Virginia Indian tribes that signed on to a brief supporting the ICWA in the face of a challenge to its constitutionality say […]

Virginia GOP leaders praise affirmative action ruling, schools vow to keep pursuing diversity

By: , and - June 29, 2023

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin Thursday praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down affirmative action at higher education institutions. “Today, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, we are closer than ever before to ensuring that an individual’s future opportunities are unlocked based on the trajectory of their potential, their aspirations and the quality of their […]