Kamari Clarke (formerly Maxine Clarke) was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica and moved with her family to Canada when she was a baby. Raised in Toronto of immigrant parents, she hails from a line of Jewish traders on her maternal side of the family. They traveled from what is now known as Israel to the Caribbean to trade diamonds. Her paternal side of the family has not been clearly documented but it was understood that they were formerly enslaved during plantation slavery in Jamaica and eventually bought their freedom and became agricultural landowners.

Kamari came of age in the 1970s in contexts that made her deeply aware of the complexities of power and the privilege of education and social status. Her insights into both sides of power and social mobility at a young age made her particularly sensitive the workings of power. Her life’s work was always that of social analysis and political engagement. During her elementary and high school years at McMurrich Junior Public School, D. B. Hood Elementary School, Fairbank Middle School and then Oakwood Collegiate Institute (high school) in Toronto, she was fully engaged in student activities from winning public speaking competitions, to representing Ontario and Canada in National and Provincial sports tournaments, to co-founding the first black (Afro-Canadian) club in a Toronto high school in 1983.

During her student years at Concordia University she played a leadership role in the university’s anti-apartheid position and worked with students at McGill University to mobilize support for South Africa’s disenfranchised. The power of the international movement of sanctions against South Africa owes its success to nodes of social organizing in global cities and micro-movements such as her engagements in Montreal in the mid-1980s.
Kamari graduated from Concordia University in Political Science-International Relations in 1988 and moved to the United States to pursue a Masters of Arts in Political Anthropology at the New School for Social Research – which she finished in 1993. Upon completing her masters she earned a Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Cruz under the guidance of – Carolyn Martin Shaw, Steve Caton, Lisa Rofel, Don Brenneis and Angela Davis. After her doctorate she then completed a Master in the Study of Law in 2003 at Yale Law School.