Written by Victoria Bardega
Photography by Dan Austin
Lakeland tends to be a city that draws people from all over the world. Meet a woman whose Jamaican roots have inspired her journey as a well-established and successful communicator, from the island to the city.
“Wi likkle but wi tallawah … We’re small, but we are big.”
These are the words that come to mind when local broadcasting personality Andrea Oliver-Clarke thinks of her homeland. Oliver-Clarke is a vibrant soul with a love for people, God, and her family. She has served the city of Lakeland through various capacities throughout the 30-plus years she’s resided in Florida. From serving as a board member for the College of Arts and Media at Southeastern University to being a high-spirited personality on several of our local broadcasting/radio stations, Oliver-Clarke brings warmth, liveliness, and empowerment to any room she walks into.
While the talented communicator has roots in this community, her story actually began in the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean. Oliver-Clarke moved from Kingston, Jamaica, to Lakeland in 1986. “I did not want to come to Lakeland,” the culture-setter shares. But, after her mother was scheduled for a surgery, Oliver-Clarke moved with her younger sister to care for their mother.
“I originally was heavily involved in the Jamaican theatre for a while: singing and dancing. I loved dance.”
As a young professional in the broadcasting/radio industry, Oliver-Clarke considered herself “privileged” to have found her passion as a communicator early on in her career. “I lived in Jamaica my entire life, and in our country, the weather is beautifully warm all year round,” she recalls. “I originally was heavily involved in the Jamaican theatre for a while: singing and dancing. I love to dance.”
After building notoriety in theatre, Oliver-Clarke was hired by the Jamaica Information Service, the Government’s Public Relations Radio entity.
It was there that she met and fell in love with fellow colleague and then sound engineer for the station—her now husband of 34 years, Kiplin Clarke.In February of 1986, Oliver-Clarke packed her bags to leave behind all that she’d known in Jamaica. While Lakeland has blossomed over the last several years into the fast-growing, vibrant city we know it to be today when Oliver-Clarke arrived, she was met with a drastically different environment than she had been used to. For this island soul, Jamaica was a place where music was heard on every street corner. “In Jamaica, I grew up with music all around me. Church music is so loud on every street — music from the bars, too,” she reminisces.
According to the travel blog Wander Wisdom, Jamaica is noted to “[produce] the most music per capita.” Many may recognize Jamaica for being the birthplace of island reggae, with artists like Bob Marley who rose in the music industry for his peaceful lyrics and laid-back rhythms. But Jamaica isn’t just a hot spot for reggae.
From pop and country to folk and rock, this beautiful Caribbean island houses a variety of musical influences that have contributed to many of the hit songs we love. “A lot of the music produced in Jamaica is made by foreigners. Record companies often launch a new artist in Jamaica before they launch them internationally, because if the song is a hit in Jamaica, the rest of [the] world will catch on,” shares Wander Wisdom.
This diverse immersion of cultures is what heavily influenced Oliver-Clarke in her love for and active participation in music. When looking back at her upbringing, she shares how she “grew up having a great appreciation for all kinds of music and rhythms, classical, jazz, pop, reggae, and yes, country music — Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Freddy Fender, Charlie Pride — you name it!”
While there are so many different genres of music, there’s one genre that has remained a favorite to Jamaicans. “Did you know country music is huge in Jamaica?” Oliver-Clarke shares. “And not a lot of people would think so because usually in today’s world some people tend to associate music with race.” This social misconception is one she thinks limits people’s ability to enjoy life to the fullest.
“We were not told we couldn’t listen to something because of our race [growing up]. We listened to what our heart longed for [in Jamaica],” she explains.
Following her big move to Lakeland, she was hired on the spot after walking into the WPCV radio station in town. Prior, Oliver-Clarke had developed extensive skills in radio broadcasting, but this would be the first time she would be trained to work on the audio board behind the scenes.
In 1988, she transitioned into a role at WCIE Christian Radio Station at Carpenter’s Home Church. She was an announcer for the daily news and public affairs segments and worked with now well-known local news anchor Rick Elmhorst.
Since continuing her career in radio/broadcasting in the Lakeland area, Oliver-Clarke has accomplished many awards and recognitions for her extensive work, including a recognition award from the former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, and from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). She has also served on the board for the non-profit organization, Give Kids The World Village. Along with her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from the Caribbean Institute of Mass Communication at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, she recently successfully completed a high-level rhetoric course certification at Harvard University. She has interviewed well-known public figures, including former President Barack Obama, authors Steven Covey and Max Lucado, as well as local public figures including Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz and Polk Sheriff Grady Judd.
Locally, you may have seen Oliver-Clarke at your gym teaching group fitness classes, as she is heavily certified in a variety of fitness disciplines. She loves to bring some electric moves to her routines in honor of her cultural roots. When she’s not at the gym instructing classes, she works as a research specialist at the non-profit organization, One More Child, and also as the beloved host at LKLD Now and the video series, LKLD Now In View. She’s also a proud member of Grace City Church and loves to actively participate in their worship ministry.
Today, Oliver-Clarke and her husband celebrate 35-plus years in Polk County. She looks back at Jamaica with a deep love and appreciation for the country that made her. And, after traveling all over the world, she knows there truly is only one place that feels like home for her and her family: Lakeland.
When it comes to this charming and ever-growing city, she loves “the growth” and how “it has become a more embracing society.”
“I can always fondly go back to Jamaica as a tourist, but when I’m in Lakeland, I know that this is home,” she says.
Oliver-Clarke’s past is something she notes has “shaped who [she] is, but [she] is so much more than where [she’s] been and what [she’s] done.”
“A strong sense of purpose [has always] kept me going here for me, for my family, and for the strong woman who raised me,” she says.