During a recent segment of her “Making the Chair Fit” series, Menah Pratt-Clarke, Virginia Tech’s vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, asked alumna Juanisha Brooks to name her favorite chair.

“The director’s chair, because not many Black women occupy that chair,” said Brooks, a 2008 graduate of the School of Communication and a recent addition to the university’s Alumni Board of Directors. She has also served as a volunteer for the Black Alumni Reunion since 2014.

Through “Making the Chair Fit,” Pratt-Clarke examines and highlights the many people and programs dedicated to serving underrepresented and underserved students, faculty, and staff.

As senior video producer for the U.S. Department of Defense, Brooks is part of an in-house multimedia production unit that produces documentaries and training materials, as well as interviews with military and high-level intelligence officials.

Part of her daily responsibilities include serving as producer, editor, and director for a wide range of video productions for the agency’s internal and external media platforms. Because of the sensitive nature of much of her work, she had to obtain top-level security clearance through a process that took more than seven months. 

Growing up, Brooks thought she’d be in front of the camera as an actress. In high school she signed up for television production and found it both fun and powerful, so she chose to major in communication at Virginia Tech. She was selected as a fellow for the International Radio and Television Society, received the Steger Award for Undergraduate Poetry, was awarded the Virginia Tech NAACP Female Undergraduate of the Year Award, and was a finalist for Undergraduate Woman of the Year. 

Brooks’ first big break in broadcasting came when she was selected — from a pool of more than 8,000 applicants nationwide — to be a part of the prestigious NBC page program. She then became a production assistant at the MSNBC headquarters in New York City. In 2012, Brooks was hired as media coordinator for the CNN Washington bureau, where she helped produce political coverage for the “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

Despite her successful career and high-level government clearance, Brooks recently fell victim to racial profiling. While driving home late one night, she was stopped by the police, arrested, jailed, and charged with four crimes. 

“It broke my heart to know that I could one day work in a role where the main mission is to support and defend, yet I was not treated with the same respect,” Brooks said. “The service didn’t matter; all that mattered was the color of my skin. The people who were assigned to protect and serve me did not, and that is something that has sat with me.”

When asked why she is speaking up about the case, Brooks quoted poet Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you.”

“I could have lost my life. I could have lost my career,” said Brooks. “Black lives matter — but also, Black livelihoods matter.”

When asked what advice has been transformational, Brooks replied, “My mother said that no matter what happens in life, keep going. Put one foot in front of the other and keep going. If you have that determination you can keep going.”

The incident has since been expunged from her record.

“Virginia Tech is where I initially developed a spirit of service and saw future military leaders in action through the Corps of Cadets,” she said. “No matter what path I take next, I will take valuable lessons of service with me.”

Looking ahead, Brooks — who chairs the communications committee for the Black Alumni Reunion, said, “I am passionate about connecting Black alumni, building community, and increasing engagement across decades. I am looking forward to the in-person reunion in 2022.” 

Written by Hallema Sharif