Newark native Asia J. Norton, a former teacher who is president of the Newark school board, decided a law degree would give her even more tools to address inequities in her hometown. So in 2020, she enrolled in Rutgers Law School.
“I’ve witnessed the disparities in Newark and in surrounding areas. It wasn’t fair and it continues not to be fair. I’ve always thought lawyers had super powers and I thought that understanding the law would be important in helping the students of Newark,’’ says Norton, who is a member of the Class of 2023.
During her final year, she worked in the law school’s Housing Justice & Tenant Solidarity Rights Clinic, where she represented lower-income residents confronting an array of housing justice issues.
“A number of children in Newark get displaced because of their families inability to pay rents. Housing, economics, education. It’s part of a whole ecosystem,’’ says Norton, who grew up in the city’s South Ward.
She has many happy childhood memories: soccer games at Weequahic Park, dance lessons at Newark School of the Arts, spending summers as a lifeguard at city pools.
“Newark just poured so much into my childhood,’’ recalls Norton, a school board member since 2018. “I wanted to give back to the city that gave me so much.”
But she also feels driven to change conditions that affected her life. As a child, she struggled with reading. But instead of getting support, she had a teacher who couldn’t remember her name during a Back-to-School night meeting with her mom.
It was only after her father died of a drug overdose that her mother, also a teacher, was able to use the social security money from his death to pay for private school, where Norton excelled in AP courses. “I now say that my father had to die for me to receive a quality education,’’ she explains.
Norton became a teacher in Newark charter schools after graduating from Simmons College in Boston and obtaining a masters from Columbia University. “I wanted to become the teacher I needed when I was a child to the children of Newark,’’ she says.
Presently, she is the only school board member with a teaching background.
Norton chose Rutgers Law School not only because it’s located in her hometown but for its emphasis on equity in the city and beyond.
“I can’t imagine myself at any other law school. I’m not sure students can leave law school at RU-N without having an understanding of how law and policy can both perpetuate and eliminate social injustices,’’ says Norton.
During her second year at Rutgers-Newark, she participated as a fellow with the Civil Justice Clinic, which launched a tenants’ rights outreach campaign called No Evictions Newark to increase access to emergency rental assistance, reaching more than 200 Newark residents.
The White House and Department of Justice used the campaign as an example of best practices among law schools engaged in housing stability.
“My education here has been very beneficial for me and my passion for serving the community,’’ says Norton. “Rutgers-Newark is truly the school for the people because of its social consciousness.”