As members of the Brooklyn-based Progressive Democratic Political Association (PDPA) on Sunday celebrated the 80th birthday of former New York City Councilwoman Dr. Una S. T. Clarke, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller described the trailblazing Caribbean woman 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 Clarke, 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 Jamaican prime minister said the former legislator “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 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 Una Clarke, Trinidadian-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. George Irish, the Montserratan-born Dean in the Social and Behavior Science Department at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College, gave credit to Clarke for much of his accomplishments since migrating to the US over two decades ago.
Irish was also very high in praise for her for helping to sustain the Caribbean Research Center at the college, of which he is the director.
Grenadian-born lawyer Yolande Nicholson said Clarke has been her mentor, stating that she had taken her to “places”.
“Mother Una has brought us all together”, she added, holding back tears.
Among other tributes were: Master of Ceremonies the Rev. Canon Calvin McIntyre; James Richmond (poem); Anna Walker, of the Flatbush-Caton Vendors Market; Jamaican-born playwright, actor and comedian E. Wayne Mc Donald, who read Clarke’s biography; Rose October-Edun, who paid tribute in dance, dubbed “Phenomenal Woman;” Trinidadian Samuel Clarke, who offered “Salutation of Praise” and PDPA members who made a Candle and Rose presentation, as well as conducted a “Parade of Hats.”
Clarke said PDPA members had “outdone” themselves.
“I never thought it would be so fancy,” she said. “I’m honored and privileged to be 80 – to serve our community, to walk with unity.
“This is an evening that is uplifting,” Clarke added. “This is an evening that I’ll never forget.”