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Yvette d. Clarke
United States Congresswoman

Never has there been a more determined, focused, and spirited public servant than Yvette Diane Clarke. Congresswoman Clarke has answered to several titles including activist, community organizer, and now legislator in the Brooklyn community where she has lived and worked most of her life. But to the man who has nurtured her fervent spirit, she simply answers to daughter. Clarke is known for her boldness, compassion and love for humanity, all of which have contributed to her becoming an effective leader and an outspoken advocate on numerous issues of great importance to her constituents—especially her father who is perhaps her staunchest critic and her biggest ally. In 2006, she became the youngest African American woman to serve in the United States Congress, taking the seat first occupied by the late Honorable Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress more than forty years ago. Clarke serves New York’s 11th Congressional District with an extraordinary sense of pride and loyalty. When she is on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives working through a piece of legislation, Clarke doesn’t have to try very hard to conjure up her father’s sage advice. “My father calls me,” she laughs. Her phone will ring and immediately she’ll recognize her father’s voice. “Yvette, please tell President Obama…”

She’ll stop him and jokingly say, “Hold on Dad, I’m going to put the president on three-way right now.” She loves that her father cares about her work as a politician and is grateful that they share such a close relationship.

When Clarke was a young girl, her family was an integral part of the Brooklyn community fighting for social justice. She recalls when her father, who worked as a civil engineer, would put his construction hat on her small head and lift her high in the air. Perched on her father’s strong shoulders, she had a bird’s eye view during rallies and protests, and she felt safe. She recalls periods of time when police brutality created a crisis in their community. In 1976, a ninth-grader, Randolph Evans, was shot and killed at the Cypress Hills Housing Project by an NYPD officer. Clarke remembers the whole community coming out to protest his untimely death in front of the 75th Precinct, demonstrate. The shooting officer was eventually arrested and indicted. Coming out to raise their collective voices was the type of civic responsibility and social justice that Clarke learned from her father and mother at a very young age. It became a blueprint for her life as a community activist and later as a legislator. Her dad, without fail, provided wisdom, guidance, and direction, and encouraged meaningful participation in such community protests and events. As the protector of the family, he was instrumental in shaping the family’s values and instilling in Clarke, the belief that she was put on this earth to help change the world in a positive way. These values have stayed with her and she feels fortunate to have grown up in an active household where community organizing and activism were alive and well.

Always dad first, Leslie remains engaged in politics and concerned about what’s going on in his daughter’s congressional office. He even calls to make suggestions about how her press office should respond to newspaper articles she is mentioned in. She loves that her father is engaged and keeps in mind that his perspective is also as a member of the voting public. After all, her father and mother live in her constituency. They are voters who get information from different places in their Brooklyn community and share it with her. Most times her father’s feedback is welcome. Clarke takes the not-so-welcome feedback in stride because she respects her father and appreciates the closeness they share. She tries to involve her parents in a lot of things because she cherishes these precious years, as her parents are getting older. The times when her father has escorted her to a holiday party at the White House or a high profile political function in New York, Clarke notes that, dressed in his finest suit, her dad walks with his shoulders squared and a little extra pep in his step. She and her father still dance together a lot at events. And when he is in the audience during one of her public speeches that prompts a standing ovation, she sees her father standing in the front row with his chest rising to his chin. “Other people may not interact with their fathers as much as I do. Some folks are estranged from their fathers, but this is the way I was raised. I haven’t departed from it.”

Her father’s extraordinary focus on education, and the love and wisdom he shares has challenged Clarke to become the person she is today. The life lessons he taught her have given her courage to face obstacles as the youngest African American woman to hold a position in Congress. She sees her father as a courageous man—a man of honor, dignity and integrity and he often tells her just how proud she has made him. “I think he feels that all of the work he put in helping to raise me has paid off,” she says. “It’s a delightful feeling to be around my parents and to know that my father, who invested a lot of time in my brother and me, gets to see the dividends of that. And we get to experience it together.” Yvette says. “That is a great feeling.”

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