Giant of environmental justice remembered at Celebration of Life

Giant of environmental justice remembered at Celebration of Life
Dr. Henry Clark’s son, Omar Clark, poses with Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia at a memorial for the late Dr. Clark, a well-known pioneer of environmental justice. (All photos by Kathy Chouteau)

By Kathy Chouteau

Family, friends, community members and local leaders remembered the late Dr. Henry Arthur Clark as “a giant” in the environmental justice movement and in the North Richmond community — and also as a “great dad, husband, brother and grandfather” — during a public Memorial Service and Celebration of Life at the Lucky A’s North Richmond Baseball Field on Saturday.

Dr. Clark, a native of North Richmond, passed away June 2, 2022. A bevy of speakers heralded his legacy at the memorial. Annie King-Meredith of the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) board and West County Wastewater District (WCW), served as the master of ceremonies. Rev. Dr. Jermaine Marshall of Davis Chapel CME Church offered a starting prayer.

During his lifetime, Dr. Clark helped found the North Richmond MAC and the West County Toxics Coalition. He also worked for Neighborhood House of North Richmond and collaborated with environmental justice organizations such as Communities for a Better Environment and Asian Pacific Environmental Network, according to the North Richmond MAC, which noted that he “changed the environmental justice narrative in Richmond and around the world.”

Legacy of Dr. Henry Clark to be honored at ‘Celebration of Life’
Dr. Henry Clark

Dr. Clark also played a central role in supporting the environmental and safety commitments made by Chevron Richmond, including the recent Refinery Modernization Project. 

In a moving tribute at Dr. Clark’s memorial service, his son, Omar Clark, remembered his father as a great dad, husband, brother and grandfather who “made us all very proud.” He underscored that his father “would want people to remember not only a lot of the things he did, but also that whatever it is that’s going on in your community, in your life…you’re not powerless.” He added, “There’s people you can talk to, officials you can go to, people you can email,” and recalled his father’s tenacious spirit that saw him, at times, “show up out of the blue” if someone wasn’t returning his calls.

Dr. Clark ‘towered above others through his words…When he spoke, people acted.’

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia said the tall-in-stature Dr. Clark “towered above others through his words, the impact of his words, his action, his presence and his inspiration,” also remarking that “when he spoke, people listened. When he spoke, people acted.”

Referring to an earlier suggestion by Lloyd Madden, executive director of the Neighborhood House of North Richmond, to rename the community’s Center for Health after Dr. Clark, Supervisor Gioia agreed that “we need to do something to honor Henry” and that he would do some outreach and have a community discussion. “Because Henry was all about health—whether it was the health of the air, health of our environment, health of the community, our mental health, our physical health, the health of young people, the health of the economic condition of North Richmond—that was Henry.”

Gioia presented a proclamation resolution from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District honoring Henry. “We love you, we remember you,” he said. “And I think it’s really up to all of us to continue your impact and your legacy.”

Lily Naaz Rahnema, community engagement manager at the Chevron Richmond Refinery who served alongside Dr. Clark on the North Richmond MAC until his passing, shared her perspective—as did Sup. Gioia—of how Dr. Clark held them accountable to the public. “In my professional capacity, it goes without saying that he challenged Chevron. He showed up to investor meetings and he led marches, but the uniqueness of Dr. Clark was [his] ability to see opportunity for the people he served through partnerships.”

Rahnema said that, when she was new to her role in Richmond, “he took the time to school me” and was “always available for advice.” When she visited Dr. Clark towards the end of his life, he still had his “thunder” (as speaker Donald Gilmore called it) and told her, “I still have a lot of fight left in me and this is not going to hold me back.”

Lily Naaz Rahnema, community engagement manager at the Chevron Richmond Refinery who served alongside Dr. Clark on the North Richmond MAC until his passing, speaks at the memorial to him.

A stand-out moment during the memorial service was a 10-minute multigenerational “Earth Dance” by the Aztec Dancers, who donned vibrantly colored traditional costumes adorned with feathers. While dancing in an oblong formation to the beat of two drummers, a man and a young male child they offered a fitting celebration of nature and tribute to Dr. Clark. Before and throughout the memorial service, Ray McCoy and the Ray McCoy Tribute Band also offered a spirited musical performance for the gathering.

Richmond City Councilmember Nat Bates, who said he worked with Dr. Clark on a number of projects, recalled he would “speak up and fight for what he believed to be right. And fortunately, we were almost always on the same side…We got along nicely because he was always for the people.”

Councilmember Bates added something that Dr. Clark always told him, while also invoking the late boxer Muhammad Ali: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee and rumble, rumble, young man, rumble. Get the job done.”

Other speakers sharing their remembrances of Dr. Clark Saturday included historian Doug Harris; West County Wastewater District Board of Directors VP Cheryl Sudduth; Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council’s Doris Mason; Urban Tilth’s Doria Robinson; Richmond Public Library’s Angela Cox; and the above referenced Lloyd Madden and Donald Gilmore—to name most.

Prior to the memorial service, the North Richmond MAC announced that Marena Brown, program manager, Youth Service Bureau and Board Member at CHDC, will be honored with the 2022 Dr. Henry A. Clark Community Leadership Award.

Sponsors of Dr. Clark’s memorial service included the Chevron Richmond Refinery; Chris Hammond and Sons; Thomas Chasm, Olalla Partners, LLC; Contra Costa Youth Service Bureau; Men and Women of Valor; and Anniemarie.