Every Friday of Women’s History Month, the BK Reader will spotlight a brilliant woman from Brooklyn who is making borough history.
Sadie Nash lifted her skirt on a crowded wagon in Nebraska and pulled off her petticoat to wrap a cold-stricken baby on a winter night in 1902. Her action was so radical at the time that it attracted the press local and national.
Nearly a hundred years later, his great-granddaughter Cecilia Clarke, a Brooklynite with steadfast anti-racist and feminist values, established an award-winning, belief-aligned leadership program for young feminists on behalf of her great-granddaughter. mother.
the organizationwhich started at Clarke’s dining room table in Brooklyn Heights, has now served more than 10,000 young people in New York and Newark and uses a radical power-sharing model – program participants also help lead the organization .
Clarke built the organization from the ground up, while raising her daughter on her own. Now Clarke is a mom to three kids, all of whom went to elementary school in Brooklyn.
Although Clarke stepped down as CEO at Sadie Nash in 2013, she carries her great-grandmother’s desire to serve others like a torch wherever she goes.
“I remember I first called myself a feminist when I was 9,” Clarke said.
“When I started Sadie Nash, I was a single mother of a teenage girl. My mother was also a single mother, so maybe there was something there. Feminism was just a very early charging for me.
One of Clarke’s favorite things is seeing the young people who have gone through her leadership program go on to do great things.
One of the former “Nashers” now runs his own nonprofit in New York called Legally BLK Fundswhich encourages and supports black women to enter the legal profession.
“It was a proud moment. I’ve known her since she was 15,” Clarke said.
After leaving Sadie Nash in 2013 in the hands of a new executive director, Clarke led the Brooklyn Community Foundation in clarifying and reshaping its mission to be guided by racial justice to drive meaningful social change in the world. arrondissement.
“The opportunity at BCF was probably the only job that could get me out of what I started at Sadie Nash,” Clarke said.
“I was also convinced it was time to hire a woman of color to lead Sadie Nash, so I was happy to step down to make room for that to happen.”
BCF, which Clarke ran until July 2021, is the only public foundation dedicated to the charitable community in Brooklyn, according to its website. The organization works in partnership with donors and community leaders to invest in racial justice and community-led change by providing grants to local groups with aligned values.
At BCF, Clarke started a program called Brooklyn Insights, which facilitated thousands of conversations about the needs of local community members in Brooklyn to identify key areas where the foundation could provide support.
During her leadership, BCF’s endowment grew from $60 million to $125 million, and in the first 16 weeks of the pandemic, she led the organization by awarding $3 million in funding from emergency to Brooklyn groups in need.
“When COVID hit, we were constantly processing grants for community groups — about 80% of the groups we gave out were led by people of color,” Clarke said.
“It was like flying the plane while it was being built, in terms of how quickly we worked to get emergency funding.”
Clarke was so proud of BCF’s COVID response that she felt her work of setting up the foundation in her latest iteration was complete and the organization was ready for a new leader.
Another reason she left, she said, was that she was ready to change careers and go back to school to become a social worker. Now Clarke is studying at NYU.
“It was great in school, but it was an adjustment for sure,” Clarke said. “I’m the oldest in the class at around 35, but I’ve made some friends. And the teachers are great.
Clarke will graduate at the end of the next academic year, before embarking on the next chapter of her career.
And we know that whatever her path, she will follow the same advice she gives to others: “Don’t compromise on your values and always keep learning.”
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