Powerful Women Let's Talk - 036: Deborah Clanton

Mar 8, 2021

Deborah Clanton

Deborah Clanton is the retired District Court Magistrate and Court Administrator from the 62B District Court in Kentwood, MI.  Although retired, Deborah continues to be very busy, working for change in the community.  A very active member of Delta Sigma Theta Public Service Sorority, she tirelessly works for students and education.  One of her passions is getting people out to vote.... even during the pandemic.  Deborah Clanton is this week's Powerful Woman.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:

Intro: Produced by women about women Powerful women Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live. Powerful women Let's talk is made possible in part by family fare. Keeping it real.

[MUSIC]

Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone Time for powerful women Let's talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. Well, today's powerful woman is Deborah Clanton. Deborah is a retired District Court magistrate from the city of Kentwood as well as a court administrator and director of probation services. A powerful career for a powerful woman and do not let the word retired fool you. That is just how her official status reads as she is very busy these days. Still Deborah received her Bachelor of Science degree from Grand Valley State University and her master's in public administration from Western Michigan University. Deborah is extremely active in her public service. Sorority Delta Sigma Theta, full disclosure I'm a member of that sorority as well. It attacked issues like getting people out to vote, education and scholarships and Deborah has been the president there and leads the way in our social action work as well. We will get to all of that in a moment. But I also want to share that Deborah is a member of proactive. A non-partisan community activism organization. She has received the GVSU distinguished alumnus award and the Giants award. The flight Skinner justice award there. And while retired again, Deborah has not slowed down one bit and that is part of our focus. Women can be powerful no matter what stage they are in life. So again, I'd like to welcome you, Deborah Clanton, to powerful women Let's talk. Thanks so much for joining us.

Deborah Clanton:  Thank you for inviting me.

Jennifer Moss: I want to start with your days as a magistrate in Kentwood 62nd District Court. Tell us about your work there, basically as a magistrate, you determine guilt or innocence?

Deborah Clanton: Yes. Let me tell you, in the district Court the magistrate is an appointed position, So I was appointed by Judge William Kelly who has since retired just this December and has a non-attorney magistrate. Your duties are a little bit different then attorney magistrates. The one difference is that attorney magistrates do small claims. So, in terms of guilt and innocence, Yes, you do that. But you do that with misdemeanor cases, anything under 90 days.

Jennifer Moss: How did you feel about your career? because I know you have the personality where I know you can take care of business. And that does not seem like an easy thing to do on a regular basis when you're looking at whether it is misdemeanor other higher offenses. But how was that to be in that position.

Deborah Clanton: Powerful.

Jennifer Moss: Good Word

Deborah Clanton: You know, literally it was it was for me. Just another step in my career

Jennifer Moss: Did you study criminal justice?

Deborah Clanton: I studied criminal justice and I have been a probation officer. I started there as a probation officer; I became director of probation officers I was appointed magistrate then I became the court administrator. So, it was just a succession. The next opportunity that was available. You know, sometimes there's doors available and you just take advantage of what is in front of you.

Jennifer Moss: and you walked through.

Deborah Clanton: But I did enjoy that. It gave me opportunity to interact, obviously with a number of people in different ways and ways that you can impact lives.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. Of course, you continue to do that. You were at the courthouse for 30 years now retired. You have not stopped working. Not one bit. You are very active. I have seen you in action. And so, it's important for you to encourage people. One of the things that is in your heart in your core is getting the vote getting out the vote,

Deborah Clanton: correct. I remember. As a little girl going to the polls with my mom for years. Actually, I remember the first time going was during President Kennedy's election. And I remember I was probably about 6 years old, but just standing in that line for a long time waiting for my mom to vote. But She instilled in us the importance of the vote because she was very involved in this political activity on a lower level. She always voted. She always made sure we voted we were of age to register. She made sure we registered. So, I knew the importance of the vote. I knew the power of the vote. And that was instilled in me from my mom at a early age. But I think it is important for me to get out because there's so much power that's just sitting on the sidelines. There is so much that we miss as a people because we do not get out and vote. And I try to let people know that I called the vote the great equalizer because everybody has one vote. I do not care how much money you have your one vote is no more of them my one vote. So, I want people to use that power.

Jennifer Moss: And you encourage, and you are involved in countless activities in voting season. times and maybe beyond that as well. But actively working to get people out to vote. And you're there on the sidelines waving Them in or trying to get people to come out at churches and other places, right.

Deborah Clanton: I am all over I am all over. I have so much fun. I mean, I'm out just about every day and I have some partners that we go out together and we are particularly this past election season. It was very, very critical to us that we got our community out to vote. So we were at every Food distribution line at every community gathering in the park where ever we could be masks up, shields everything we could put on gloves when we felt like we needed gloves. we were on a mission to register everybody. Everybody that we could. We were downtown. We have been in some of the homeless shelters we've been everywhere and everywhere.

Jennifer Moss: and covid did not stop you.

Deborah Clanton: It did not. We just like I said, we had mask and we had shields. We had gloves, we meant business we meant business and We did a phenomenal job of registering in turning out the vote because we not only register but with proactive, we do voter protection as well. So, we register then on election day we work with a group of with the League of Women voters, the ACLU attorneys. We run our border protection format the whole day I mean, we have a headquarters and everything. We have challengers poll watchers. We we do it all here.

Jennifer Moss:  you run the gambit.

Deborah Clanton: we run it all on that day and we were very successful, actually in Kent County this year because of our work.

Jennifer Moss: And in a lot of that, too comes from I am kind of going to mix. A couple of things in here. So, you have had your work as the magistrate. But you are also very, very active in Delta Sigma Theta public service sorority. You have been a past president there and have had many positions. I know over time. How important is the activity and the action that the sorority is involved in throughout our community?

Deborah Clanton: Like you mentioned earlier. our Sisterhood is focused on public service. So service is what we do, and political awareness is just one of the arms of the 5 areas that we function in. But that has been a passion for me in. I'm not the chair this year of social action, but I am the co-chair. And so, it's very, very important that not only me, but I actually encourage all the members to come out and we have a huge turnout. We have a huge turnout of deltas that come out and it takes more than me.

Jennifer Moss: So, and as we talk about powerful women and being a magistrate for a good number of years in your career, you have to be somewhat power minded, if you will, as you mentioned. So, tell us, have there been any barriers that you may have encountered as you traveled along your career’s path because that's not an easy position to have attained or even, you know, you are existing in that element and what you're doing and working in the court system. Tell me about that.

Deborah Clanton: Well, when I think about barriers, quite honestly. I think I had all the same barriers that many people of color have, you know. And the other thing I think about barriers are they are meant to stop you if you let them OK. And that is just about it. And I actually come from home with a very strong mother and she never let us back down from anything. I mean, if there's a barrier there, you either go over it. You go under it, you go around it, you go through it. There is no backing down. And that's in all areas. I mean, really. That is just how I have been in all areas and I have raised my daughter the same way. If you want something, you go after it. If you allow people to stop you by putting up barriers, then where would we be. Not just me, but where would we be as a people if we allow barriers to stop us.

Jennifer Moss: So, on our road, our journey in life. And as you strive to move forward. Many say many women will say, you know, it took a while to kind of get comfortable and to find your own voice get comfortable in your own skin. How did you find your voice? Because it sounds to me like perhaps you have a loud voice in many things that you do, even though you're low key, but you like you said, no barriers are going to keep you from doing what you need to do. But how did you find, get comfortable in your own skin.

Deborah Clanton:  To be honest with you. That is something I'm still working on that is the truth. I am still working on getting comfortable in my own skin because sometimes I am to direct. Sometimes people think I am offensive. I do not mean to be. But apparently it comes off that way. Sometimes I actually think I'm a very nice person.

Jennifer Moss: Well, I think so too.

Deborah Clanton: But getting comfortable in my own skin. That is basically the way I see it is just. Going after what you want to go after, you know, and being comfortable with who you are.

Jennifer Moss: But you really do not leave anything on the table. You let it be known how you feel.

Deborah Clanton:  Yeah, that has always been me. Even as a little girl. I have been the type of kid that would always speak up I am person who will be in the room and I will say what people are thinking but are not willing to say.

Jennifer Moss: that sounds pretty comfortable in your skin.

Deborah Clanton: I’m confutable with that. Yeah, that is me. That is me. I'm the person in the room who’s going to mention what everybody's thinking. But nobody wants to say.

Jennifer Moss: Absolutely. So, as we mentioned, you're very active in your public service sorority Delta Sigma Theta, you work with lots of people. I mean, you have throughout your entire career so different personalities. So, what leadership traits do you like to see perhaps in those people who you have dealt with along your journey or those who you might be mentoring. What type of leadership skills? What works?

Deborah Clanton: There's some things I think are very important, OK. Put it that way. First of all, I think education is very important. So, get as much education as you can. I have always been told to get more than you need because as African Americans, we cannot be comfortable with high school diploma. Maybe not even a bachelors. I say get more than you need. So, education is one thing be willing to work, be willing to work hard work extra hard and maybe even work more than your counterpart willing to speak up when necessary. Also, I think it's important to be willing to bring others along the way and these are some of the characteristics that were instilled in me. You know, don't go up the ladder and not bring others with you.

Jennifer Moss: kind of leading but extending that hand to help someone else come along.

Deborah Clanton: bring others with. You do not just go up or excel and not bring others with you because anywhere that I have gotten in life is because some leader before me opened the door. So be willing to open some doors.

Jennifer Moss: So, tell me this many women deal with the daily pressures, you know, of getting it all done. You have a daughter. And while you are retired now, how did you balance work life with your personal life. So many women must do this. People are still having to do that. Everyone has their own but they are often looking for tips and things to help. How did you do it? You had a demanding career, and you have to you, you know, lots of things going on.

Deborah Clanton: Yes, I did. I sometimes had to work 2 jobs sometimes had to work 2 jobs and go to school. I actually got my master's 20 years later after I got my bachelor's the way I balanced is I obviously worked pay my bills. Everything that my daughter was in I attended I never missed I never missed a game. I never missed a conference. I always felt that it was important for her to see my face and I tell parents I do not care if its 5000 people in the room if they cannot look up and see mommy and Daddy. Then the other 5,000 mean nothing. So, it was very, very important to me I have never missed anything of hers.

Jennifer Moss: Sounds like you set priorities. Deborah Clanton: I did. I did. And then the things that I did not do. And I have talk to parents about that frequently is you cannot be involved in everything in the community. You just cannot. If you put your kids on the side. I always say we as parents will pay one way or another. So, it's better to put your time in and give your time to your children and that that could mean if they're involved in sports then you might be the team mother. You might be the one bringing in the snacks right after the game. But that was one thing, that I did, put something some of the involvement that I am in now. I put those a lot of those things on the side and I spent more time being involved with my daughter’s activities. So, I say I paid early, and it has paid off for me because I am very proud of what she's doing now. So, you pay now, or you pay later. And so, I feel like those who do not put the time into their children but maybe spend all their time serving in the community, then you might be paying later. And what I mean by that, I could mean things like Mom can you pay my rent. Mom Can you get me out of jail mom. The baby needs diapers. Just a number of things like that. I just feel like you have to you need to give your time to your children.

Jennifer Moss: Your biggest investment biggest investment, this is some fun stuff. Everyone has their, you know, a favorite way to relax and do some fun things. What are some of the things that you'd like to do with family and friends? What brings you joy?

Deborah Clanton: okay I like spending time with my daughter, her husband, and the grandkids. I enjoy that. As a matter of fact, I made a point of getting out to their house monthly before covid hit.

Jennifer Moss: because they do not live in

Michigan Deborah Clanton: they live in Maryland. And I have been doing that even when I was working so I have been doing that for years. I mean, it. It takes an hour and 15 minutes to fly to Maryland. So that is what I have a lot of joy and spending time with my grandchildren. But here in the community, a lot of my time is spent with sorority activities or, you know, just maybe having, you know, few friends over and doing some cookouts and things like that. You know, sometimes my husband and I will well, we travel. We were traveling a lot until covid hit. So that has slowed down everything that has slowed down everything. And quite honestly, I have never in my life. Been home so much. I mean even as a little kid. I was always gone I was always I would say to people.  I used to run the street.

Jennifer Moss: you would run the streets you were very active.

Deborah Clanton: Yeah. I was just I was always gone; you know. And now this the first time in my life that I have been. Home so much.

Jennifer Moss: And your body's going, wait what are we doing? Why are we still here?

Deborah Clanton: Well, you know what, I am starting to enjoy it. I really am.

Jennifer Moss: I could not see you as a homebody.

Deborah Clanton: I know, I know. I cannot be a home body I cannot Hardly sit on the couch and not jump up. My husband, Richard you know him he will try to hold me when they're when a commercial comes on he will hold me because he knows.

Jennifer Moss:  your getting ready to get up.

Deborah Clanton: I am getting ready to jump, go do something. And so, or, you know, even some days he'll say why don’t you just go out, you know, run around, I know you getting antsy here in the House, but it could just be him trying to get some free time too.

Jennifer Moss:  Never now know how that one is going right? Okay.

So I love to laugh. And one of the things I always like to ask everyone is, you know what makes you laugh. You know, we have all needed to keep our sense of humor this year with covid. It's been it's been quite the year. But when you think about going past that. What makes you laugh gives you a good chuckle.

Deborah Clanton: I like comedy movies. I enjoy comedies, Movies, sitcoms now that I'm home lot. We spent a lot of time watching TV so.

Jennifer Moss:  Little binging going on in the Clanton household.

Deborah Clanton: Right. So, we spent a lot of time watching TV. So, there is some other things that I could be doing. Sure. And there is a lot of things that I do. But.  I enjoy comedies. And then like I said, just my grandchildren. They are 2 characters. And so, we do a lot of facetime and my daughter, I always say my daughter and I are both want to be comedians. So, you know,

Jennifer Moss: you keep each other going,

Deborah Clanton: yeah, we do. We do. And it's so funny because her husband will say, oh, there they go in. They are just we try to up each other, but we just have a good time. So, we have we have fun.

Jennifer Moss:  So much happening in the world that we live in today. People are often looking for words of encouragement do you by chance of a favorite saying or motto that you encourage that you sue to encourage yourself or others and or others.

Deborah Clanton: I will go to Romans 8.31 if god before me who can be against me. So quite honestly, I would encourage anybody to have god in their life. There have been many times that I mean, actually on a daily basis. I do, you know, do pray and meditation. But I am just saying when I think about over my lifetime, the things that have kept me going has been prayer. And my faith My mother’s prayer I used to call my mother. My biggest cheerleader. So, but yes, if god be for me who can be against me. And then my mom left me with a real powerful saying I actually even had put in those words that you can have on the wall. They have those plaques. I got that for myself and my brothers and sisters and she said keep moving forward. Do not look back stay on the straight path ahead and god will guide your footsteps. And that is my mom. That is how she she's always lead us as well. Keep moving forward. And that is when I mention the barriers. She never let us come home and complain or say I cannot do this.

Jennifer Moss:  You need to find a way to do it

Deborah Clanton yes, you can. Yes, you can. But yeah, I encourage people if you do not know the Lord get to know the lord because he will see you through you need. A steady higher power in your life, you know. And then that is my rock right there.

Jennifer Moss: Good way to wrap this up Deborah Clanton. And I really enjoyed our conversation speaking with one of our powerful women right here in West Michigan. Want to thank you so much for joining us.

Deborah Clanton: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. I had a nice time Good to be out of the House as well.

Jennifer Moss: absolutely. And that is always a good thing I also want to thank all of our listeners as well. Thanks so much for joining us for this edition of powerful women. Let's talk. I'm Jennifer Moss.

[MUSIC]

Outro: Produced by women about women these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk Get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women. Let's talk is made possible in part by family fare. Keeping it real.

It is produced by wgvu at the Myer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.