Roads to the Capitol: Six new members of Congress on their personal journeys

An athlete. A principal. A painter. These six new members of Congress come from all walks of life.

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By KK Ottesen
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Near-homelessness. NFL glory. Taking on the mob.

Here, six new members of Congress tell their tales in their own words.

Rep. Hansen Clarke (Mich.-13) | Rep. Frederica Wilson (Fla.-17) | Rep. Jon Runyan (N.J.-3) | Rep. Allen West (Fla.-22) | Rep. Tim Griffin (Ark.-2) | Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.-at large)

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Rep. Hansen Clarke (Mich.-13)

Party: Democratic

Age: 53

Previously: Michigan state senator

FYI: Trained as an artist. He is a lawyer and grew up in inner-city Detroit. His mother was African American; his father, Bangladeshi. Clarke is the first Bangladeshi American in Congress.

One of the last things my mom told me when I left for college is, "Don't come back to the neighborhood." She knew her health was failing and that now I had a chance to do something with my life. But I had to come back. I don't know if I want to call it a "fire" or whatever, but it's just in me. How I grew up, what's happened to my city, my neighborhood, maybe, more importantly, the people that I grew up with -- that's the fundamental reason I'm doing this.

When I was a kid, I saw the [1968] riots firsthand, saw stores in my neighborhood burned to the ground, saw a man murdered when I was 9 years old. My mother sent me away to prep school to get me out of the neighborhood. Right after I went, my friend that used to help me academically was robbed in our neighborhood. Thrown in the trunk of a car overnight. When he got out, he was fine, physically; mentally, he was never the same. So, I'm able to go on to Cornell and Georgetown Law School, and he's never worked a day in his life. I'm one of the few guys still alive from my neighborhood -- literally. So to try to equalize it out for people so that everybody has a chance; to try, in a sense, to make up for that loss -- that drives me.

Look, there was a point in time, as a young adult, when I lost the things I had valued -- all of them. I loved my parents; they were gone. I had a great scholarship to college; I lost it, dropped out. I bought a car; it was gone. I lost my income; I couldn't find a job. I couldn't sleep at night, and then I would sleep during the day -- I'd just given up completely. I just existed. I got on food stamps, and then my food stamps were cut off. I didn't know when I was going to end up on the street, but I knew it was going to happen.


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