HHFA's "Sista to Watch":
Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY)
Occupation: Member of Congress
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Follow her on Twitter: @YvetteClarke
About Yvette D. Clarke:
As the Representative of New York’s Ninth Congressional District, Yvette D. Clarke is committed to continuing the district's legacy of excellence as set forth by the late Honorable Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman and Caribbean American elected to Congress. As an activist, a community organizer and now as a legislator, Congresswoman Clarke’s boldness, compassion and love for humanity has allowed her to become an effective leader and an outspoken advocate on numerous issues of great importance to her constituents.
The Congresswoman is a Brooklyn native whose roots are firmly planted in her Jamaican heritage. Representative Clarke was first elected to Congress in November 2006. Prior to being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Clarke served on the New York City Council representing the 40th District in Brooklyn. She succeeded her pioneering mother, former City Council Member Una S. T. Clarke, making them the first mother-daughter succession in the history of the City Council.
Currently in the 113th Congress, Congresswoman Clarke sits on the Committees of Homeland Security, Ethics, and Small Business.
HHFA recently asked Congresswoman Clarke about her inspirations, role models, and her advice for Black women that want to spark change.
Higher Heights: What inspired you to want to work in the political arena?
REP. CLARKE: I spent much of my youth as an activist and performing public service. I remember attending meetings with my mother, distributing materials; hearing community leaders and members of the community express their concerns about issues of social justice and issues affecting their quality of life.
My predecessors, Dr. Una S. T. Clarke and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, led by example and were trailblazers who became very accomplished as Black women of Caribbean decent. They changed our civil society by using their own voices to amplify the issues that mattered most to their constituencies. I wanted to continue to build on their legacies in my generation.
Higher Heights: What advice do you have for Black women that want to spark change?
REP. CLARKE: Get and remain involved in your community. Interact with your local, state, and federal representatives. Stay informed on the issues. Attend community board, civic association and precinct council meetings regularly. Understand how policies, rules and regulations are set and organize and work to shape them. Share your knowledge with others to empower your community, one person at a time.
Higher Heights: What do you feel is the single most pressing issue facing Black women today and why?
REP. CLARKE: Black woman, their talents, skills and abilities and their dreams, desires and aspirations are still marginalized in the policy-making bodies of our nation. We are underrepresented as judges in the courtrooms, executives in the boardrooms, among other professions. Black women are not financially compensated at an equal rate to their white male counterparts. Women of color have to demand and defend their right to equality, be vigilant with the gains achieved and fully participate in our civil society. We must position ourselves in the local and national debates that will impact our way of life.
Higher Heights: Tell us about a woman mentor that has helped you on your journey?
REP. CLARKE: There are many women who I've identified as mentors who have helped shape my journey, but one of the first role models for me, was a woman named V. Renee Williams. She was my first employer upon returning to New York from my undergraduate studies at Oberlin College. She was the Executive Director at the Erasmus Neighborhood Federation; a community-based, non-profit organization in Brooklyn and her relationship with me began when I babysat her daughter as a high-school student. It was through conversations and interactions with her, as well as, the relationship that she had with me, and my family that I accepted the scholarship to Oberlin College in the first place. She was a civic leader, community activist and a public servant. She took me under her wings and showed a selfless interest in my growth and development at a crucial point in my life. I credit her with helping to shape me as a Black woman in public service.