On Tuesday evening, Black women leaders co-hosted a live virtual meeting with prominent civil rights and civic organizations to rally support for the confirmation of DOJ nominee Kristen Clarke.
One by one, each speaker urged Black women—a key voting bloc—to leverage their collective voices, political power, and influence to urge U. S. Senators to confirm Clarke’s nomination as the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. If confirmed, she would be the first woman and Black woman to hold the position.
Her nomination must first make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a vote slated for tomorrow, Thursday, May 13. If that body moves the confirmation along, the nomination then goes to the full Senate.
Melanie L. Campbell, President/CEO of National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable; and Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, President/Chair of the Board, National Council of Negro Women co-hosted the live-streamed event. “We need justice back in the Justice Department,” said Campbell.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President & Director-Council, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, pointed out that in these times of racial animus, voter suppression, police brutality and more, there’s no time to waste in filling the position.
“Think about where we are. It’s already May and we don’t have a head of the Civil Rights Division,” said Ifill. “We need to get on with the work of justice…This lifelong civil rights advocate is ready to take on the task at hand and we have to stand in support of her.”
A native of New York and the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Clarke grew up in public housing and went on to earn degrees from Harvard University and Columbia Law School. Her extensive civil rights career includes a prior DOJ position and serving as chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of the New York Attorney General.
Since 2015, she has served as president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In that capacity, her court cases have run the gamut from hate crimes, to voting rights. Earlier this year, she sued the Proud Boys for allegedly vandalizing a historic Black church following a rally in support of former president Donald Trump.
In Clarke’s April 14th nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee, the nominee testified about carrying the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as her guide. “‘Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.’ I’ve tried to do just that at every step of my career,” Clarke told the committee.
“In every role I’ve held, I have worked with and for people of all backgrounds – regardless of race, national origin, religion, or disability status,” she added. “I’ve listened deeply to all sides of debates, regardless of political affiliation. There is no substitute to listening and learning in this work, and I pledge to you that I will bring that to the role if confirmed.”
Despite her prestigious credentials and pledge to pursue equal justice under the law, Clarke’s nomination has elicited strong resistance. Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way and former NAACP president, said in an op-ed, “Clarke is the latest woman of color nominated by President Biden to be smeared by the right wing.”
“When you are in the struggle, you have much favor from God but many haters,” said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Chair of the National African American Clergy Network during the virtual event.
The 90-minute call to arms drew representatives from all four Black Greek letter sororities; civil rights groups such as the NAACP, National Urban League, National Action Network; and civic and service organizations, including the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, The Links, Inc., Jack and Jill, and faith and labor groups, among others.
Speakers who expressed solidarity for Clarke included Stefanie Brown James, Co-Founder, The Collective Education Fund; Damon Hewitt, Acting President & Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee; Bishop Leah Daughtry of Power Rising; and Clayola Brown., president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, to name a few.
ESSENCE Editor Emeritus, Susan L. Taylor, Founder/CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement said the confirmation process “shouldn’t be this hard.” Taylor also had a surprise for the audience. She’d asked Tina Knowles Lawson, designer, youth mentor and mother of stars Beyoncé and Solange to make a videotaped appearance to support Clarke. Knowles-Lawson called Clarke “smart, brilliant I might say,” and “qualified” to do the job.
That sentiment was widely echoed. The call ended with organizers urging Black women nationwide to call their U.S. Senators and let them know they expect Clarke to be confirmed, and with bipartisan support.
“Kristen Clarke is the right person for this moment,” said Jotaka Eaddy, convener of #WinWithBlackWomen. That hashtag is being used along with #ConfirmClarke on social media platforms to rally support. “We will win with Kristen Clarke at the helm.”