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I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I met Robert Clark, but the bond was immediate. We were drawn together by our shared commitment to LGBTQ equality in general, but especially for the African American community and politics.
He was a friend, brother, fellow Libra and, at times, a son. He was that next generation of activist that those of us who have been in the trenches hope will one day step forward to lead the fight.
He served on the Michigan HRC Steering Committee, as a member of The Peninsula Group and on the board of Directors, including a term as president, of the Black Pride Society/Hotter Than July – among other things.
Although he was often the youngest person in the room, he was always a valued member of whatever the group, bringing not only energy but also a wisdom that defied his years.
Over the years I had the honor of working closely with Robert. Together we knocked on doors and canvassed voters for more than one election. We logged countless miles going to meetings across the state.
Often, when I talk about my time working with The Peninsula Group, people are amazed at the number of months our team kept at it. It wasn’t always easy, but so many times when I was ready to throw in the towel, it was Robert who reminded me of why we were doing this work.
He’d end the conversation with, “So you’re going to the meeting tomorrow right? I’ll pick you up in the morning.” And he would be there the next morning with that great smile even when he was tired from hanging out the night before.
One Saturday morning we were both tired from our Friday nights, and we got lost going to Ann Arbor. I mean really lost. We just kept making the wrong turns for over an hour. We laughed and called it our “Gilligan’s Island” trip.
Robert’s spirit burned so very bright. He was always multi-tasking – taking care of his mom, planning some event and who knows what else. So it came as no surprise that he was on the phone organizing when he had a stroke; fortunately, he was at the hospital.
Under 30 and a stroke. It was so hard to believe, but that unfortunate incident gave me an opportunity to see the beautiful relationship between Robert and his mother – a beautiful love. She was there doing what mothers are prone to do – hovering – doing for Robert what he could not do for himself and encouraging him to get better; being a mom. She had brushed his hair. When she left the room, Robert leaned over and asked me to find him a barber; he was concerned she would have his hair styled like when he was a little boy.
He was in rehab for months, but he was determined not to be disabled but to excel in his new differently abled state. Then the unthinkable happened: his dear mother passed away. So much for someone so young, but Robert was a strong spirit and kept on being Robert.
The last time Robert and I had a really long conversation over lunch, we talked about enjoying life – being happy. Despite the doctors’ predictions that he would never drive again, Robert was driving. He was happy and he was looking great. That was about three years ago. Since then, it’s been the occasional phone call just to say, “Hi.” He called me when my aunt died. Every October we had our birthday chat and promised to get together for a drink.
I was pleased to hear that he had been named one of the co-chairs for the 2015 “Hotter Than July.” I was looking forward to seeing him at planning meetings and events. I assumed he would be at KICK’s holiday event on Dec. 14 and had looked forward to introducing him to my new partner. But it just wasn’t meant to be.
Following a recent stay in the hospital here in Michigan, Robert had been taken to Maryland to be with family and was hospitalized. A close friend of his said she was with him before he went to Maryland: “He was in good spirits and was really brave and strong. He was still the same Robert even though he was laying up in a hospital bed.”
He made his transition on Saturday, Dec. 14. According to his family, Robert will be cremated in Maryland, and there will be a service in Detroit. More details were not available at press time.
Rest in Peace Robert. Thank you for your service to our community, your commitment to justice and your friendship. You will be deeply missed.