By Charlene Carlies
Una Clarke was honored Thursday with the Shirley Chisholm Award given by the United Negro College Fund, at The Lighthouse on Pier 61 in Manhattan.
Clarke was born in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, West Indies. She migrated to the United States as a foreign student in 1958.
Clarke was the first Caribbean-born woman elected to the New York City Council.
When asked how she feels receiving the award, Clarke said: “Like Shirley Chisholm, I believe in public service. In so many ways I’ve admired her so much that when I was in public office myself many of her values I tried to expound upon and to build upon as a community person who knew her personally.”
Clarke was elected to the City Council in 1991, and during her 10-year tenure she sponsored more than 300 pieces of legislation on a wide range of issues, including child welfare, education, health and mental health issues, economic development, public safety and transportation.
An educator by profession, Clarke acquired funds to upgrade schools in her district; making them technologically ready, with computer labs and multimedia instruction.
Clarke also fought to expand services for the elderly, rebuild parks and playgrounds and increase quality childcare programs.
In June of 2015, Mayor Bill De Blasio appointed Clarke to the Board of Trustees of CUNY (the City University of New York.
Clarke’s daughter, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, has followed in her mother’s footsteps.
“My daughter was my successor in the New York City Council and she went on to become the congressmember for the same area in which Shirley Chisholm was the congressperson,” Una Clark said. “So we have a lot of commitment to public service, and we can attribute that to the values of Shirley Chisholm and the example that she set for us as women.”
Una Clarke believes that her children became inspired through seeing her work of civic engagement. She took her children along with her to college since she couldn’t afford a babysitter.
Clarke was in for a surprise as she learned who would be presenting her with her award on Thursday. It was her daughter, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
“This is something that I didn’t know about until two days ago,” Una Clarke said, speaking to The Brooklyn News Service. “I found out that she accepted to go out and give me the award, which I think is really just heartwarming.”