Filling the Toolbox

Filling the Toolbox

Growing up in Newark, New Jersey during the 1990s, the media portrayed us as the car theft capital of the world. There were constant jokes performed by comedians that would indicate the feelings of neglect and fear to even walk the Newark streets during the day. The city was still recovering from the 1967 riots and a corrupt mayor was reeling from despair. Yet, on January 7th, 1992, a young Black man would be born that would carry his city in everything that he did.

From a young age, I always asked why. Why people who look like me are constantly being arrested? Why people did not understand the pain and suffering that New Jersey Drive revealed, is a sentiment that young Black boys like myself from Newark dealt every day as we encountered the police interrogating and wrongfully abusing our peers? This sentiment and feeling played a huge role in shaping my current path to law school, and my career after as a civil rights lawyer.

To me, it was never an option not to become a civil rights lawyer. Society paints a picture of the law as being a career that would be bountiful and filled with luxurious benefits i.e. six-figure salaries, vacation homes, and numerous cars, but to me, the law profession serves as a tool for me to do the work in my community that is lacking. We needed more black male lawyers that were serving the needs of the people, so I always knew that was my calling.

Whether it was my time in undergrad at Columbia University, where I had the opportunity to work at the National Urban League, Brennan Center for Justice, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and United States House of Representatives,

I always felt that I was gaining tools to be able to impact change in communities like my hometown.

While my friends would work at venture-capitalist organizations during their summers, I chose the aforementioned organizations. I believe it was leading me down my path to become the civil rights lawyer that I was born to be.

These experiences shaped my decision to pursue law school with the vivid image of my city with everything I did. I continued to ask myself why and began to ask myself what I should be doing to help me become the true civil rights lawyer that I envisioned that I would be. This led me to pursue a fellowship with Philadelphia City Council while pursuing a Master of Science in Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. This experience provided the practical and academic policy skills that would compliment a potential law degree and allow me to be well equipped to answer my “why question.”

Currently, I am a third-year law student at Notre Dame Law School and I’m 9 months short of obtaining my Doctor of Jurisprudence, passing the New York Bar, and becoming the civil rights lawyer that I envisioned. I have been blessed with the opportunity to have worked at three of the most well known public service organizations throughout my law school career, NAACP Legal Defense Fund,  Public Defender Service for D.C., and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Also, I am the only law student who serves as a Board of Director for the largest public interest serving nonprofit organization Equal Justice Works.

I am in the process of becoming the civil rights lawyer that I envisioned and looked forward to serving as an example for young black men to not be afraid and become public servants for their communities.

Walter Jean-Jacques

Walter Jean-Jacques

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