A day after the massive West Indian American Day Carnival Parade on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio bestowed special honors on the first Caribbean-born woman to be elected to the City Council.
De Blasio, flanked by First Lady Chirlane McCray, who traces her roots to Barbados and St. Lucia, honored Jamaican-born Dr. Una S.T. Clarke on Tuesday at a grand Caribbean American heritage celebration at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).
“I want to recognize Una Clarke. Una Clarke is great not because of who she is — she always believe in the grassroots, always believes in the immigrant community,” said the mayor before conferring the honor in the presence of elected and other officials, and members of the Caribbean and other communities, including the entertainer extraordinaire, movie star and political activist Harry Belafonte, and Clarke’s Jamaican-born husband Leslie.
“Una, you do so much,” added de Blasio, who first met Dr. Clarke 24 years ago in City Hall, when they served in the City Council, and who recently appointed the trailblazing Caribbean-born woman to the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY). “You also gave birth to a great congresswoman (Yvette D. Clarke, who represents the Ninth Congressional District in Brooklyn). You taught her right.
“Una, you never gave us a dictionary that has the word ‘retirement’ in it,” the mayor continued. “I called on Una a few weeks ago and said ‘I need a strong voice, and I need a great person to the CUNY Board’; and without hesitation, she accepted.”
Clarke told Caribbean Life briefly after the reception: “I’m deeply honored that the mayor has honored me.
“This is the highest honor,” she said. “Nothing I do is about me; it’s about us, the Caribbean community — our growing influence in the United States.”
Born in the rural parish of St. Elizabeth in Jamaica, Clarke migrated to the United States as a foreign student in 1958.
She was elected in 1991to New York City Council; and, during her 10-year-tenure, she sponsored more than 300 pieces of legislation on a wide range of issues. These included child welfare, education, health and mental health issues, economic development, public safety and transportation.
Her portfolio in the Council included committees on Aging, Youth Services, Economic Development, Health and Mental Health, and General Welfare. She also chaired the Council’s committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and was an active member of the Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucus.
Clarke said she directed millions of dollars for education, health and mental health, economic development to her 40th Council District in Brooklyn, and pursued the implementation of critical projects and programs through her ability to win help and support from labor, government, community and business leaders.
An educator by profession, Dr. Clarke has leveraged millions of dollars to upgrade schools in her district, and have made them technologically ready for the 21st century with computer labs in every school and a model program for multi-media instruction.
Clarke said she also fought to expand services for the elderly, rebuild parks and playgrounds and increase quality childcare programs.
Very sensitive to the needs of immigrants, Clarke has led campaigns for citizenship and voter registration to enable her constituents to receive greater rights and benefits.
In response to what she described as flaws in the immigration law, Clarke led delegations to Washington, D.C., to “educate Congress for changes that would make the law more just for all immigrants.”
In addition, she has been described as “a tireless advocate and supporter” of U.S. foreign policy towards the Caribbean, especially on issues of trade.
In 1992, Clarke served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and was later appointed as a delegate to the Electoral College, where she cast her vote to elect President Bill Clinton.
In 1996, she was one of six New Yorkers appointed to the National Platform Committee of the Democratic Party. She received high accolades from the Democratic Party for her “savvy and commitment to issues” that are important to her Brooklyn constituents.
Clarke was appointed in 2001 by then New York Governor George Pataki as director of the Empire State Development Corporation for the borough of Brooklyn.
Clarke holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University and a Masters of Education degree from New York University, with additional post-graduate studies at Teachers College and the School of Business at Columbia University in New York.
In 1984, she was the first foreign-born recipient of Columbia’s prestigious Charles H. Revson Fellowship. She has been honored with numerous awards from both community and professional organizations.
In 1999, Clarke received the second highest honor that a civilian can receive from the Government of Jamaica. She was awarded the Commander of the Order of Distinction (C.D.) for distinguished service for Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals in North America.
Clarke is the first Caribbean-born woman to receive the prestigious 2001 Ellis Island Medal of Honor in New York.
In November 2005, she received the honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Technology in Jamaica (DLtt).
Dr. Clarke and her husband Leslie are the proud parents of Yvette and television producer Leslie Clarke Jr.