Virginia Tech VP for Strategic Affairs and Diversity Dr. Menah Pratt, Esq. Talks Taking Back Your Superpower as Black Women

Over hors d’oeuvres and sweet tea, this semester’s Chat and Chew, “Black Women in Biography,” presented by Dr. Crystal deGregory, the founding director of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Center for the Study of Women and Girls, in conjunction with the Carl S. Swisher Library, left the audience feeling motivated to write their own stories and tell the world their truths.

The April 17 event featured Dr. Menah Pratt, Esq., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – known more commonly as Virginia Tech – Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity, who walked a rapt audience through a lifetime of literature, love, and language in the Albert Bethune Conference room.

Dr. Menah Pratt, Esq.

Dr. Pratt was introduced by her former University of Illinois colleague and now Acting B-CU President Dr. William Berry before she began her cozy conversation to close out the Center’s spring semester programming. She transported the audience through the eras of her life, like her decision to leave her graduate program in English to return to the writing she loved via a joint Ph.D./J.D. program, which gave her the freedom to journal her way to joy.

Pratt shared how writing has always saved her life. From her childhood, she has kept journal after journal, chronicling the transitions from childhood through young adulthood to graduate school and even through divorce. Her forty-five years of journals would become the memoir she shared with faculty, staff, and students on Wednesday night, her Blackwildgirl on full display. She talked of how she turned the darknesses of her life into “goddess wisdom,” which taught her to chase the light, to reclaim the joy, to pursue what sets her soul on fire.

Pratt w/ Cookman book Dr. Pratt shared that Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is one of her inspirations, and said she has carried this book about Dr. Bethune since she purchased it at a book fair in the second grade.

The daughter of a father who emphasized “discipline and excellence,” Pratt said she woke up every morning at 4:30 a.m. as a child to make her father coffee before leaving for her daily tennis practice — all this before she made her way to school. Despite the discipline and focus on excellence, though, Pratt was, and continues to be, a “Blackwildgirl.” 

She is the author of four books about the intersection of Blackness and womanhood, including her latest, Blackwildgirl: A Writer’s Journey to Take Back Her Superpower, which was released April 2. 

She shared her secrets with the room largely full of Black women and reminded us that we are “descendants of a long line of African power,” a reminder that motivated her to continue working despite feeling like her Blackness and womanhood were often working against her. 

Spring 24 chat and chew

During the question and answer session, Dr. Jan Boulware, Dean of B-CU’s College of Arts and Humanities, asked Pratt to share excerpts from Blackwildgirl: A Writer’s Journey to Take Back Her Superpower to underscore the need for Black women to write and reclaim their lived experiences. Pratt’s presence was a reminder that “we all have God within us—our soul, a light, a fire, flame of undying brilliance…” (119).

Dr. Pratt ended the evening by signing every copy of Blackwildgirl with a personal note to each attendee, daring attendees to continue to dream. Most importantly, though, she encouraged those in attendance to “be the tree” in our their lives: maintaining as seed, growing deep roots, fending off weeds, and sprouting new branches.

May Black girls continue to reap harvests from the seeds we have planted in this fertile ground.

This article was written by Dr. Rondrea Mathis, assistant professor of English at B-CU.