Building A Legacy
Hon. Una S. T. Clarke and the Genesis of the Market
When you build an institution it lasts, when you create a program, it dies when you leave office. That was the philosophy Hon. Una S. T. Dr. Clarke lived by during her ten years in office as a New York City Council member in the 40th District of Brooklyn, New York. Her credo brought life to the Flatbush Caton Market.
Strengthening a Community
When Dr. Clarke entered public service in 1991, her mission as the first Caribbean-born woman elected to the City's legislature was to advocate for her constituents and empower the community to thrive. From dealing with law enforcement to trying to build a business and earn a living, she witnessed the day-to-day struggles of street merchants in her district and wanted to provide a permanent place for them to sell their goods and flourish.
In 2000, her office partnered with the City of New York to dedicate a permanent space in a municipal parking lot on the corner of Flatbush and Caton Avenues for merchants to set-up tents and the Flatbush Caton Market was born. For Dr. Clarke, this was a temporary solution. Unsatisfied with vendors transitioning from the street to tents in a parking lot; her office raised $100,000 for the construction of a permanent building to house the merchants. Her vision was to build a market for vendors to not only sell merchandise but receive training and resources to build and expand their business. The Flatbush Caton Market now stands as a commercial and cultural institution housing over 47 merchants, community events and a seasonal farmers market.
“The Market is not only an investment in the merchants, it is an investment that could be felt throughout the community,” says Dr. Clarke.
At the Market, merchants are able to earn income, maintain an entrepreneurial spirit and build a solid client-base to expand. Since the Market’s inception, many merchants have successfully moved on to build successful businesses and were able to give back to the community and hire local residents. They credit their success to the contacts, referrals, training and resources gained at the Market.
Reflecting on the days before the Flatbush Caton Market existed, Madge Trowers an original vendor and owner of Madge Boutique remarks, “It rained today and we didn’t have to worry about it. We can work comfortably, take care of our clients and we don’t have to worry about the weather or packing everything up taking it home and bringing it back and forth everyday. We are grateful for that.”
Having passed 300 pieces of legislation on issues from child welfare to economic development and overseeing the complete renovation and addition of vital services at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital, Dr. Clarke has earned countless awards including the Commander of the Order of Distinction, Jamaica’s second highest civilian honor. She was also the first Caribbean-born woman to receive the prestigious 2001 Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Her biggest reward remains the people whose lives her work has transformed.
“All the accolades are good but I like to feel like I earned it, I worked for it. That it is not a façade because I committed myself to my people, to my community,” says Dr. Clarke.
Although she has retired from public office, Dr. Clarke still remains a part of the fabric of her district and the Flatbush Caton Market. She can be seen encouraging merchants, ordering a custom dress from a Market seamstress and enjoying the legacy she built.
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