Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Women's History Month 2014: Brooklyn Congresswoman Gets Inspiration from Activist Mom

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NY1 continues its week-long series of women in government and politics with a profile of Rep. Yvette Clarke, a congresswoman from Brooklyn who says she is inspired by her activist mom, who introduced her to politics as a child. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.

Brooklyn-born Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 as the first African-American woman elected to Congress.

Yvette Clarke was just four years old at the time but she was in awe of the feisty congresswoman who was a family friend that she looked up to as a child.

"She was a big voice for women and women's equity, and this is something that I've sort of inherited," said Clarke.

A generation later Congresswoman Yvette Clarke represents many of the same neighborhoods that Chisholm did, but she says the political landscape has dramatically changed.

"Comprehensive immigration reform has to be number one for this constituency, and it crosses all different ethnic racial backgrounds," said Clarke.

Immigration is an issue that hits close to home for the congresswoman. Her parents emigrated from Jamaica in the 1950s.

Clarke's mother is the feisty former Brooklyn City Councilwoman Una Clarke. In 2001, Yvette won her mom's seat in the City Council, and they became the first mother-to-daughter succession in city council history.

Now, as a democratic lawmaker in Washington, Una Clarke says she can't help but worry for her daughter in what she calls a hostile political climate.

"Every time I watch some of these tea party fools, I want to get on a plane and I want to go there and tell them what for, like, you need to go back to school and learn something," Una Clarke said.

Elected in 2006, Congresswoman Clarke says she's holding her own by keeping a steady focus on the issues that plague her district's neighborhoods. Constituents like Kevin Howell call the congresswoman an inspiration.

"When you see somebody who is Caribbean standing and holding the fort, it really gives me hope," said Howell.

Clarke says that her Caribbean roots give her the energy to fight for her constituents with the same tenacity as her childhood idol, Shirley Chisholm.

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