Dr. Una Clarke – a phenomenal woman

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (left) pays tribute to her mother, the trail blazing, former New York City Councilmember Una S.T. Clarke, in January 2015.
Photo by Nelson A. King

Black History Month Celebration

As members of the Brooklyn-based Progressive Democratic Political Association (PDPA) in January 2015 celebrated the 80th birthday of the trail-blazing, former New York City Councilwoman Dr. Una S. T. Clarke, then Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller described her as “phenomenal.”

In her glowing tribute – read by PDPA member Rose Graham, at the gala banquet at Tropical Paradise Ballroom on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn — Simpson Miller called her compatriot, who is also PDPA founder and president, a “blessed woman.”

“And I am proud to call you my friend,” the Jamaican leader said. “During your lifetime, you have blazed illustrious professional paths, including achieving the distinction of being the first Caribbean-born woman to be elected to the New York City Legislature.

“The tremendous contributions that you have made, as Councilwoman, to education, children’s welfare, health, mental health and economic development, among other areas, are simply outstanding,” Simpson Miller added.

Noting that Clarke has been driven by her passion to see people excel in academics, the former Jamaican prime minister said Dr. Clarke “worked tirelessly to secure significant resources to upgrade” the schools in her 40th Council District in Brooklyn.

“And, for this, I salute you,” said Simpson Miller, adding that, through Clarke’s “determined efforts,” she was also able to expand services for the elderly, rebuild parks and playgrounds, and enhance the quality of childcare programs.

“Because of your hard work and commitment, several communities in New York, as well as in Jamaica, have been made a better place,” the ex-prime minister said.

“You have not only lived a long life; your warmth and caring disposition as an exemplary matriarch — wife, mother, grandmother — are also worthy of emulation,” she continued. “I, therefore, commend your family [and PDPA] for organizing this memorable celebratory event to show their affection to you and to reflect on your stellar achievements.”

Guyanese-born Hugh Hamilton, a former Clarke legislative aide, noted that his former boss has been “variously described as the ‘Queen Mother’ and ‘the Doyenne’ of our Caribbean American community.”

Hamilton, whose tribute was read by PDPA Secretary Joyce Henry, also described Clarke as “a trailblazing and visionary activist and political maverick who proudly embodies the revolutionary spirit of her Maroon heritage.”

He said Clarke is a “modern-day prophet to her people,” adding that that was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Hamilton said Clarke, who was born in the rural parish of St. Elizabeth in Jamaica, from her earliest days, was a “neighborhood organizer and social justice activist, professional educator and advocate.”

He said, through her historic election to New York City Council and beyond, the indefatigable Clarke has been “a woman on a mission — an unrelenting mission for the empowerment of her people: the working poor; the disenfranchised; our historically marginalized communities of color; and every successive generation of New Americans whose tireless efforts give new hope and meaning to the enduring American promise of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”

Leslie Clarke, Jr., Clarke’s son, a producer with ABC TV, said his mother had the vision to “change things,” and that he was glad that she instilled in him and his sister, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, their Jamaican heritage.

The congresswoman said she and her brother are “very fortunate” to have such a wonderful mother, disclosing that their maternal grandmother lived to witness her 101st birthday.

“I hope it’s in the DNA,” Congresswoman Clarke told the reception. “My mother and I have a very good relationship.”

In an ode to Dr. Clarke, Trinidad and Tobago-born Angela Cooper, the event coordinator and program designer, who also serenaded Clarke, said: “Being and authentic woman is not your only claim to fame/but your service to mankind is your most treasured aim”.

Dr. Clarke, who was born Dec. 2, 1934, served in the New York City Council, representing the 40th District in Brooklyn, from 1992 to 2001.

She was succeeded in the City Council by her daughter, Yvette, who, subsequently, was first elected in 2006 to represent New York’s 9th Congressional District.

In April 2017, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio bestowed special honor on his former City Council colleague, Dr. Clarke, and the PDPA at a gala ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the group.

“You did something powerful that will help everyone,” said the mayor, after reading part of a New York City Proclamation declaring Sunday, April 22 “PDPA Day,” at the group’s Silver Jubilee celebrations at Tropical Paradise Ballroom on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn.

Prior to bestowing the honor, de Blasio, who appointed Dr. Clarke to the City University of New York (CUNY) Board of Trustees, described PDPA’s 25th anniversary as “extraordinary,” stating that the organization has the ability to reach many.

“There was a time when many doubted PDPA,” he said. “I had the honor to serve as Yvette’s [Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke] campaign chair. So, I wanted to be here to celebrate, because everyone in this room has made a profound difference.

“And I must tell you, I wouldn’t be Mayor of New York City if it wasn’t for PDPA,” he added. “I want to congratulate PDPA.”

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