Geri Clark's Destiny

Davie's first black elected official has had to conquer the town's racist past... and her own fear

Mary Clark says she knew right away that Geri and Richard were serious. "I could tell by the way they were with each other," she says. "He didn't have to say anything."

Richard also began applying pressure. "I noticed that the only thing she did was read a book and stay away from people," he says. "I told her, "Life isn't in your room. You got to come out of that room.'"

After graduating from high school in 1985, Geri took jobs at a jewelry manufacturer, at a pesticide company, and doing housework. Richard thought the work was beneath her. "It really hurted me," he says. "I pushed her to go to college.... She has book smarts. I told her I would pay for it, whatever it took. But I guess I had more confidence in her than she had in herself."

Three-year-old Sarah and nine-year-old Lorenzo dote 
on their dad, Richard Sr., in a quiet moment at Potter 
Sherri Cohen
Three-year-old Sarah and nine-year-old Lorenzo dote on their dad, Richard Sr., in a quiet moment at Potter Park
Geri with four-month-old Christopher 
and Richard Jr., 13
Sherri Cohen
Geri with four-month-old Christopher and Richard Jr., 13

Since Geri didn't know how to drive, Richard chauffeured her to work. One day, he decided she should learn. She was terrified. "That was a big fight," Geri says. "I screamed at him all the way home."

The next hurdle was to get her to go to the grocery store, or anywhere else, by herself. Even after the couple married in 1988 and had their first son, Richard Jr., now 13, she wouldn't go to a store unless a family member accompanied her. "I was a walking chicken," she says. To her family and herself, she explained, "I want to be a homebody. I'd rather just stay home."

But her avoidance backfired when Geri was around 25 years old. She began having horrible nightmares. She feared falling asleep. She felt as if Richard were judging her. "I cried a lot," she says. When they argued, she would just shut down. Geri had never spoken to her mother about the trauma she had suffered as a child, and she had never told Richard either. "And he's my husband," she says.

Finally, one day Richard couldn't take it anymore. He got out a telephone book, found a counseling center at Nova Southeastern University, and insisted Geri call. "I thought he was being really hard on me at the time," she says. "Too hard." But she went and began a struggle, drop by drop, inch by inch, to claim her place in the world. For that, she thanks Richard. "He saw so much more in me than I did," she says. "He saw how I was crippling my life. I was living in a box, and I didn't want to get out of it."

When she finally emerged, Geri was ready to fight.

Geri saw a lot wrong in east Davie. The way the town shoehorned heavy industry next door to residential homes. That was wrong. The way longtime homeowners were pushed out when the town built affordable houses along SW 43rd Street in 1996. That was wrong too. The potholes. The illegal dump sites. They were wrong. And Potter Park. It was criminal the way the town neglected it. For the west side, the town built the Pine Island Community Center, a multimillion-dollar complex with a swimming pool, fitness room, and football field. In Potter Park, the baseball field had no grass, just weeds. The concession stand was boarded up. Playground equipment had been purchased but never installed. The picnic pavilion had no grills. Boxing classes were held outdoors.

The Clarks were very involved in Potter, which today the Police Athletic League uses as its recreational facility. Isiah and Richard have coached softball, football, and boxing at the PAL as volunteers since high school. The work healed Richard, gave him a feeling of purpose. "I've done a lot of good with kids," Richard says. "That's what life's all about, really." One of their boxers, Terry Moore, won the Florida Golden Gloves competition as a middleweight in 1995.

After several newspaper articles described the dismal conditions at Potter Park, the Davie PAL enclosed the pavilion and made other improvements in 1997 with private help. The town contributed netting behind home plate but spent no other money on the park. Today, the facility is more functional, if still spartan.

When town officials proposed buying land for a new east-side park, residents questioned when the administration would get around to fixing Potter Park. Richard turned to Geri. "I told her, "Geri, we need your help on this.'"

At a Town Council meeting on November 17, 1999, Richard, Isiah, Geri, and other east-side residents spoke. They supported creating more parks but stated emphatically that the town needed to spend money on Potter. Several residents attributed the conditions at the park to racism. Council member Kathy Cox took offense at the criticism, claiming that "there are some real good things going on out there for y'all."

Her comments stung. Then, on November 19, the Sun-Sentinel quoted Cox sounding as though she didn't consider east-side residents true citizens of the town: "We have been making improvements all along for those people without their participation or support, and it's never been good enough for them," Cox reportedly said.

At the December 1 Town Council meeting, east-side residents turned out to complain. Geri wrote a speech for Richard to read. He refused. "You need to read it yourself," he told her. When it came time to speak, Geri laid it on, responding to the Cox quote in the Sentinel: "This statement has motivated me, to no end, to review the evidence of all those improvements that, we the people, are so unappreciative of. When I find that evidence, which I'm sure is public record, I will compare it to the extent of the improvements done at all of the other parks in Davie. I cannot wait to share this information with everyone who will listen, and I will share it with everyone who will listen."

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