Levi Walton

Nikole Hannah-Jones is larger than life. She must be, for how else can one describe a journalist who catalyzes the debate over how a nation teaches its history?

This may be the sum effect of Nikole’s greatest work—The 1619 Project, an analysis of the legacy of slavery in the U.S.—but it is certainly not the sum of her. The journalist from Waterloo, Iowa, contains multitudes. She is the most emphatic laugh, the consummate ally, the staunchest critic. On Twitter, she is Ida Bae Wells, an allusion to her most direct antecedent, the trailblazing journalist Ida B. Wells. In 1892, Ms. Wells spoke across millennia of Ms. Hannah-Jones when she said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

The light Nikole wields is titanic, a blinding beam that illuminates and scorches. In her light, the wounds of America’s original and subsequent sins are laid bare. With her light, the serrated flesh of this country’s past is both subject and predicate, a light wielded to both identify wounds and cauterize flesh.

In considering Nikole, my mind drifts to images of James Baldwin and Nina Simone smoking and smiling in an overly bright den. My mind goes here because like Nikole, Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Simone also wielded light and made plain a truth Nikole has lived—in shining her powerful and painful light in the preservation of Blackness, this wonderful woman is proof and testament to the unshakable spirit of Blackness.

Jenkins is a director, producer and Oscar-winning writer

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.