Black History Month Spotlight: Judge Tanya Walton Pratt

Much progress has been made in our country’s judicial system throughout the span of our country’s history, however, numbers show there is still a lack of diversity among judges and lawyers in the United States. Taking tough stands is never easy for anyone, but for Judge Tanya Walton Pratt – her judicial voice protecting human rights on controversial issues have paved a way for those following in her footsteps.


Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is the first African American federal judge in Indiana history, and only the third woman on the Southern District bench.


Known as a tough, respectful judge, she serves with compassion and desires to see more rehabilitation, re-entry and educational programs for prisoners. Throughout her criminal judgeship, her focus has been on ensuring justice for children and those disenfranchised by poverty and lack of education. During her time as probate judge of Marion County, she publicly advocated for the need to adopt children in foster care.


When thinking about service, a story about a past client stands out in Pratt’s mind. The client was in an accident that caused extreme pain and depression; a physician suggested she do community service. The client told Pratt when she stopped feeling sorry for herself and helped others, she felt better. “Service to others provides personal fulfillment. It is amazing and changes your life,” said Pratt. She sees similar experiences today when the courts ask individuals to make retribution in society – it often changes their lives.


While Pratt has a very busy career, she still finds time for others, especially children. Since 2010 she has sponsored a federal court day for kids to come to the courthouse, participate in a mock trial, observe a court hearing and engage with a panel of law students and attorneys. She is part of Just the Beginning, which aims to increase diversity and minority participation in the legal profession.


For her, giving back fulfills a social responsibility to make the world a better place. It’s an opportunity to make a difference in others and make the community safe for her new grandson and future generations. She wants our community to be more unified; ending the divisiveness in community so that people can come together. She believes that every life is valuable, and every citizen deserves to be respected.


Her advice to others is to get involved. “It’s very fulfilling when you are contributing to your community to make it a better place,” she said. “Everybody can serve. Don’t just donate – you will see the real impact when you get involved.”


We could think of no other public servant to honor for her service and integrity throughout the state of Indiana both as a United Way 100 Hero and equity champion. Thank you, Judge Walton Pratt, for your continued work to advocate for justice this month – and every month – for our Central Indiana communities.