Willis' writing consistently centers African American history, culture and perspectives; her work has earned multiple awards. In April 2019 her feature article about Brook Field Park (where Olympic champion 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. In August 2019, Willis was presented the Award for Excellence in Journalism and Creative Writing by the Community Healing Network. 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.
In 2016, while working full time as arts editor at Richmond Magazine, Samantha co-created the Unmasking Series, a public forum examining the historic and contemporary impact of racism in distinct regions of Virginia. 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. Samantha is currently developing an Unmasking program in Hampton Roads in partnership with Virginia Humanities and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, slated for October and November 2019.
Willis studied English and Creative Writing at Radford University. She is a member of the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, and serves on the Community Advisory Board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. Willis lives in central Virginia with her husband Jamaal and two sons, and is expecting her third child in December.