Inside The Defender: Celebrating 90 years of Black Excellence

Since 1930, The Houston Defender has served as Houston’s leading Black information source. For the last 90 years, the Defender continues to an integral part of the city’s history and a model of journalist integrity and it’s still going strong.

Sonceria Messiah Jiles

Even in a rapidly changing media landscape, the Defender has been recognized locally and nationally for its quality content and its ability to localize complex societal issues that impact the Black community.

The Defender has received multiple grants and awards for its blend of thought-provoking discussions, forward-thinking ideas, creative content, and attention-grabbing storytelling that creates a safe environment for its audience.

The future is digital and we are growing with the times. The Defender is in the process of a major transformation in the way we bring our community the news. We have started investing in new digital products to help us expand our reach and better connect with you.

The success and longevity of this newspaper couldn’t be possible without the help of the community and its team of talented news professionals who are ready to take this news organization to the next level.

As the Defender celebrates another year around the sun, we hope that you continue to support us and our mission tell the story of the Black experience for the next 90 years.

Meet our dynamic editorial team: 

NAME: ReShonda Tate-Billingsley

POSITION: Managing Editor

ABOUT ME: I’m a Houstonian (by way of Smackover, Arkansas). My most important job is mother to my three children. I am the National Bestselling Author of more than 50 books, some of which have been made into TV movies (I starred in two of them…okay maybe I didn’t star but I did have a couple of lines). I am a former TV news anchor and reporter who has worked in Houston, Oklahoma City and Beaumont. I also work as a ghost writer, literary editor and consultant, and a screenwriter. My first film I penned will be released this winter.

FUN FACT: I wanted to be a rapper back in high school (I’m an award-winning poet). My mom shut that dream down. 

NAME: Aswad Walker

POSITION: Associate Editor

ABOUT ME: I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a husband and father of six children.  I’m an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston Main Campus’s African American Studies Department and have done that since 2004, teaching “Introto African American Studies,” “The Black Church in America” and “Black Liberation Theology.” I have authored five books and contributed to the Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia, Journal of Black Studies and several other books and publications.

FUN FACT:  I graduated from the greatest high school in the universe (Willowridge) and started as an offensive guard on our undefeated 1982-83 state championship football team that went 15-0.

NAME: Jodie B. Jiles

POSITION: High School Sport Editor

ABOUT ME: I love sports and have been with the Defender since birth.  I joined the staff as a videographer and accepted the responsibility of doing high school sports and never looked back.

FUN FACT: I am trying my hand at being an author and preparing to launch a book in the Fall of 2021 entitled Vampire in Egypt.

NAME: Jimmie Aggison

POSITION: Photographer

ABOUT ME: Originally from Kansas. University of Kansas graduate in the area of communication studies. Huge sports and Kanye West fan. Favorite color is red.  

FUN FACT: I like to watch documentaries or listen to interviews on YouTube while cropping photos. 

NAME: Terrance Harris

POSITION: Professional and College Sports Editor

ABOUT ME: I’ve been with The Defender since August 2019. I’m a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market. Before joining The Defender, I worked for the Houston Chronicle, AOL, Sports Radio 610, and

FUN FACT: When I’m not juggling assignments, I’m usually spending time with my two children, Amari and Nigel. One is four hours away in college, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping me busy with the Daddy do’s. My son is 14 and vacillates between an aspiring athlete and a drummer. Go figure. But I enjoy every minute and all of the quirks of being a girl and boy dad.

NAME: Clyde Joseph Jiles

POSITION: Strategic Alliance Manager/ Social Media Director for 2+ years

ABOUT ME: I was born into the business, and have been exposed to the dynamic effect the Defender has on the Houston Black community since I was a little boy. I have worked as a paperboy, secretary, distribution team member, virtual event producer and several other roles. In working in those various capacities within the Defender I was able to see how this company truly cares about the people and community we serve.

FUN FACT: I am a classically-trained chef.

NAME: Laura Onyeneho

POSITION: Education Reporter

ABOUT ME: I cover Houston’s education system as it relates to the Black community as a Report for America corps member. I’m a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle and community news for 6+ years. Prior to the Defender, I was a multimedia producer for the Boston Herald and worked as a news associate at WBZ-TV, a CBS station. 

FUN FACT: I’m a proud Nigerian-American. I’m also a professional event emcee. For years, I’ve facilitated a diverse range of events from weddings to cultural festivals. I look forward to sharing my talent with the Bayou City.

NAME: Emelda J. Douglas

POSITION: Chief Development Officer

ABOUT ME: Wife. Mother. Community Advocate. Business Executive.  I align revenue strategies capable of supporting robust organizational growth. At Defender Network we are strengthening business capabilities and building our newsroom to better promote, amplify and distribute Black news and information via print and digital networks.

FUN FACT: Love the great outdoors – gardening, hiking, snorkeling.


Google News Initiative Innovation Grant (GNI): This initiative supports projects that drive digital innovation and tackles the challenges of better understanding and serving communities to enhance the relationship with varied audiences. We were one of 33 projects chosen out of 215 applicants.

The Race Equity in Journalism Fund: The Defender was one of 28 news organizations to be awarded $3.6 Million in grants serving communities of color across the country. The Fund provides general operating support as well as capacity-building resources for grantees to be able to invest in their longer-term skills and sustainability.

Sustainable Publishing Solutions Grant (SPS): This grant was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help newsrooms leverage their publishing platforms to grow their audience and increase revenue.

Report For America (RFA): RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. An initiative of the nonprofit media organization, The GroundTruth Project. It is structured to harness the skills and idealism of an emerging group of journalists plus the creative spirit of local news organizations.

Local Media Association Lab for Journalism Funding: The Lab for Journalism Funding will help local news organizations develop and execute strategies to fund essential local journalism, in part through philanthropic support.


Local Media Association Awards 2021

Best Philanthropy Journalism and/or Fundraising Strategy:

1st Place, State of Black; a three-part virtual event series.

2nd Place: COVID-19 Fundraising Campaign.

National Newspaper Publishers Association Fund Messenger Awards 2020, The Best of the Best in the Black Press

SPORTS: Don King Award, 3rd Place Winner

FASHION, BEAUTY & LIFESTYLE: –Ada S. Franklin Award, 3rd Place Winner

FAITH & RELIGION Award 3rd Place Winner

ORIGINAL ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN: E. Washington Rhodes Award, 3rd Place Winner

SPECIAL EDITION: Leon W. Washington Award, 3rd Place Winner

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...