Black Lives Matter Symposium Held at Vanderbilt

l-r; Dr. Menah Pratt-Clarke and Patrisse Cullors

NASHVILLE, TN — Dr. Pratt-Clarke joined Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who delivered the evening keynote address on September 20 during the transdisciplinary symposium exploring the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on struggles for racial and social justice.

The symposium represented the spirit of collaboration and the importance of how others should have open and mutual conversations about the important issues of our day. Vanderbilt University believes that addressing racial justice as a university and as a nation is more vital now than it has ever been for our country.   

As the luncheon Keynote, Dr. Pratt-Clarke  is a  Double ‘Dore, having earned both her law degree (1993) and a doctorate in sociology (1997) at Vanderbilt. Her research interests include critical race studies, black feminism, and critical race feminism, with a particular focus on issues of transdisciplinary analysis of diversity issues in higher education. She will sign copies of her most recent book, A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Class and Gender in America, at the luncheon.

Menah Pratt-Clarke is the Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Vice Provost for Inclusion and Diversity at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). She is also Professor of Education in the School of Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, with affiliations in Africana Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Department of Sociology.

She has more than 20 years of administrative, academic, and legal experience in higher education, with a focus on executing and coordinating large-scale strategic initiatives that promote institutional transformation. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, she had senior administrative positions and faculty positions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Vanderbilt University.  As a scholar-administrator, she believes in the importance of praxis and using scholarship to inform and lead change in higher education.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa with a major in English and minors in Philosophy and African-American Studies.  She received her master’s degree in Literary Studies from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in Sociology from Vanderbilt University.  In addition, she earned her PhD in Sociology and her law degree from Vanderbilt University.  While at Vanderbilt, she taught African-American Studies and English at Fisk University, and taught English and Public Speaking through American Baptist College’s program in the men’s and women’s maximum and minimum security prisons. She is licensed to practice law in Illinois and Tennessee.

Her research interests include critical race studies, Black feminism, and critical race feminism, with a particular focus on issues of transdisciplinary analysis of diversity issues in higher education.  In addition to her first book, Critical Race Feminism and Education:  A Social Justice Model (2012), two other books, Journeys of Social Justice: Women of Color Presidents in the Academy (Peter Lang, 2017) and Reflections on Race, Gender, and Culture in Cuba (Peter Lang, 2017) were released last year.  New for 2018, A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about race, gender, and class in America (Peter Lang, 2018).

She is frequently invited to speak on issues of diversity and inclusion, race and social justice, equity, leadership, education, women and gender, and promoting a more just and inclusive society and empowering the powerless.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, Vanderbilt University  hosted Patrisse Cullors, Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, as the keynote speaker at the Vanderbilt University Transdisciplinary Symposium.  The symposium, “From MLK to BLM: 50 years of struggle”  delved into the influence of MLK’s legacy in the fight for racial and social justice.

Originally from Los Angeles, CA, Cullors has dedicated most of her life to fighting for prison reform and against anti-black racism worldwide. From a young age, she has worked to improve the safety and conditions of the prison system, through The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence, as well as advocating for the rights of queer women of color.  An artist, organizer and freedom fighter, Cullors has not only used her voice through performance art but also through the various organizations she’s started, including Dignity and Power Now, her non-profit to support the lives of those affected by mass incarceration.

However, she is most well known for her work with Black Lives Matter.  In 2013, Cullors was the first to use the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in reaction to the death of Trayvon Martin. Dignity and Power Now was started by a simple social media campaign has now grown into an international non-profit that has inspired many to follow in her footsteps. Her work with the movement led her to write a book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir and has made her a New York Times bestselling author.  

Members of the Vanderbilt community had the opportunity to hear her deliver the evening keynote address  at Thursday’s symposium in the Langford Auditorium.   Throughout the day, attendees   attended separate panels led by the symposium co-sponsors: The Divinity School, Peabody College, The Graduate School and Vanderbilt Law School.  Each panel  explored a different topic related to MLK’s legacy as it relates to today’s issues. The  panels were held  at Flynn Auditorium in the Vanderbilt Law School.

“This symposium represents the spirit of collaboration and the importance that we, as a university, place on open and mutual conversations about the important issues of our day,” said Emilie Townes, Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School. “The importance of our addressing racial justice as a university and as a nation is as vital today as it has ever been in the life of this country.” 

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