About Hansen Clarke:
An only child, Hansen Clarke grew up in a working class neighborhood on Detroit's lower east side. His father passed away when he was only eight years old and his mother supported the family with a job as a school crossing guard. Food stamps helped fill in the gaps.
When Hansen Clarke was in third grade, an observant teacher recognized his artistic ability and urged his mother Thelma to provide him with lessons. This would change his life and become the catalyst that would open doors that would one day lead him out of a life of hardship. But, it wasn’t easy. Private lessons were out of the question on a crossing guard's salary. However, being a resourceful person, his mother was able to arrange for the Detroit Institute of Arts to pay for the lessons through a grant.
Clarke's hard work and innate artistic ability eventually lead to a scholarship offer from Cornell University. While he would graduate from Cornell with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting, his career would take him in a very different direction.
During his freshman year at Cornell, Clarke received the devastating news that his mother Thelma had died. "I felt that I was alone as a person," said Clarke. "I can see now how all of that impacted the person I became. That's why I'm so quick to protect other people. When I see someone alone and vulnerable I can relate to what they are going through."
While at Cornell, Clarke was troubled by how few minorities there were on campus. Concerned that the university might be moving away from providing need-based scholarships to disadvantaged students, he decided to run for the student seat on the Cornell University Board of Trustees.
By his senior year at Cornell, Clarke decided to set aside his art to pursue a profession in law. He was accepted into Georgetown Law School where he graduated a Juris Doctor degree.
After passing the bar, Hansen Clarke returned to Detroit where his career has been on a rapid rise. He was elected three times to the Michigan House of Representatives. In 2002, he was elected to the Michigan State Senate by defeating an incumbent. Clarke represents the 1st District.
Senator Clarke says he sees a disconnect between many Detroiters and their elected officials which he feels leads to a sense of powerlessness in much of the inner city community. "I want to inspire citizens that their government can help them. I know that sounds like rhetoric but I believe it."
Clarke feels that it's often because voters don't hold their elected officials accountable that many of the problems of the inner city go uncorrected. "I tell the people that I serve that I want them to hold me accountable. You don't normally see problems with blighted buildings or underperforming schools in the suburbs. That's because voters in the suburbs hold their elected officials accountable."
Senator Clarke brings additional influence to Detroit by way of his recent appointment to the powerful Appropriations Committee. The Senator’s primary focus this year is to effectively invest state funds to better protect the public health and to create more jobs.
Today, Hansen Clarke has come full circle. After being away from his craft for eighteen years, he recently returned to his painting. "For years, I wanted to paint. Once I did it, I noticed how alive I felt."
Senator Clarke is also setting up a scholarship fund that will help send disadvantaged inner city youths to a college prep school. Named after his mother, the Thelma Clarke Opportunity Program is his way of giving back to society. "That's what makes this country so great. We have an opportunity to invest in one another."
Quick Facts about Senator Clarke:
Photos Courtesy of Travel Michigan, Randall McCune, Vito Palmisano, and the Traverse City CVB
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