UNO student uses writing for social change


Mariel Richter

Taleisha Newbill’s hair is intricately wound in crochet twists that frame her bright face as she speaks about her life’s constant passion: writing. Her flowing black-and-white print maxi dress marks attire suited for the steamy seasonal transition between August and the impending fall semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where Newbill will attend four courses, graduating in spring of 2017.

Newbill reflected on her graduation from Papillion-La Vista Senior High School and how that experience informed her passion to be a writer that focuses not only on the intersections of music, but also on intersecting social issues impacting the black community in the U.S.

“I just feel less pressured to fit in, like when I was in high school,” Newbill said as she talked about the pressure to be the voice for not just black people in her white-majority high school, but also to be the voice for black women and black girls in particular. “I tried to block out these harsh social issues in the media, but things happening in the news makes me want to write more about those issues, not just about music.”

Transitioning from working in her yearbook class in high school, Newbill said she always knew she would pursue some career in writing. She has been a contributing writer for sites like and UNO’s The Gateway student publication, but now writes for the online publication The Odyssey and hopes to work her way up in the magazine world, from writer to editor, in the future.

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Quiet confidence embodies Newbill’s direct phrases, showing the maturity of the past few years, since her high school graduation to a woman coming into her own, in her hometown of Omaha.

Travel sprinkles her years living here, seeing her visiting Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and New York City, as well as others. Appreciating the ability to stay close to family while going to UNO has made the decision to stay for her undergraduate degree a positive one.

Writing for The Gateway about singer Beyonce’s popular music video and performance of the song “Formation,” Newbill stripped down the choreography of the video, writing about how Beyonce’s ending scene of standing on top of a New Orleans police car sinking in water symbolized important issues for many Americans, such as the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina as well as the subject of police brutality taken up by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If it makes people uncomfortable, so what? People of color shouldn’t have to silence themselves to please people who want to live in a color-blind world,” Newbill wrote.

A statement such as this does not come from a place of wondering about keeping quiet on social issues, but from direct experience in that world. Newbill said she often felt she needed to fit into a “token black friend” role that she simply did not identify with.

“I just remember how some of the kids in school would pander to the popular white kids at school and how they would talk about black people in a degrading way,” Newbill said, “and how normal and casual it was then.”

Growing up, Newbill said she felt she did not fall neatly into either category of the stereo-typical roles given to her. Identifying with her aunt on a deep level, Newbill said she has always been that “awkward black girl,” who can be weird, opinionated and alternative.

The fear of her high school-self occasionally creeping in to say, “don’t be the angry black woman,” or “don’t get upset when people say offensive things” is now gone as she is comfortable being her more authentic self, Newbill said.

Taking a heavy Editorial Journalism core at UNO in the fall, Newbill is excited about her History of Mass Communication, Literary Journalism, Radio/Audio II, and Survey of Western Art History I class list. Going to school while working at Homer’s Music and Gifts music store in the Old Market, she will have her work cut out for her, Newbill said.

Laughing about the recently coined “Quarter-Life Crisis” many twenty-somethings are now identifying with, Newbill remains hopeful for her future. “Obviously life happens after high school and reality hits you hard, but I’m excited to see where I’ll go from here.”