Tell me something special or interesting about your background before you went to law school.
Before law school, I worked for New York State Senator David Patterson. I loved my job and working in lower Manhattan, as well as living in NYC. I also got to meet interesting people, such as Ozzie Davis and Jessie Jackson.
Why did you decide to go to law school?
I was greatly influenced by the stories that my grandmother told me about my grandfather, Charles Armstrong, who died in 1965 before I was born. While I have spent most of my life here in Oakland, my family is originally from Chicago, and this is where I spent my early years. My grandfather attended John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He was the only African-American at his law school and graduated at the top of his class. He practiced as an attorney for a number of years and then went on to be elected to the Illinois State Legislature. One of his accomplishments while in the state legislature was when he drafted the Armstrong Act, which aimed to desegregate the Illinois schools. The law required each district to take proactive steps to eliminate racial segregation. The Illinois Supreme Court later struck down the law claiming that it ceded too much power to individual district school boards, but the legislation was instrumental in starting the process to desegregate the Illinois public schools. My grandmother also gave me articles and my grandfather's legislative blue books. This was one of the first things that I found fascinating and made me want to attend law school.
Tell me something special or interesting about your law school experience.
Since I was in commercial and residential real estate prior to law school, I assumed I'd be a transactional attorney and love contracts, real property law, and the like. To my surprise, I fell in love with criminal defense and civil rights law. I now want to represent those who don't have a voice. Unlike most people, I enjoy public speaking. I find a type of serenity when I'm in front of large groups. An attorney must feel a great sense of accomplishment after winning a big case, but I'm convinced that there's a greater satisfaction that comes from knowing you've changed an institution's policies and procedures. This is the kind of work that will have a lasting impact.
What is your greatest source of motivation/support as you work towards your JD?
My grandmother, my immediate family, my close friends and my new family.
What is your favorite thing to do when not in law school?
I love to spend time with my wife and my baby daughter, Nola. I also like to go on long walks, often after midnight, with my English bulldog, Daisy.
What message or advice do you have for your fellow law students?
You don't have to be a law student, you get to be a law student - it's a privilege to have this opportunity. Never assume that you're entitled to anything. Have a sense of gratitude.
If you were not in law school right now, what would you be doing?
Interpretive dance? (Laughs) I have no idea.
About the interviewer: Jan Nussbaum is the Assistant Director for Professional Development in Law Career Services. Jan grew up in the 60's with a mother who was a civil rights attorney. (Jan and Jonathan had fun during this interview swapping family stories about the civil rights movement.) Jan graduated from GGU, practiced law for 16 years and lived overseas before finding her way back to Golden Gate. Jan lives in the East Bay with her husband Rick. She has two daughters, Mollie (24) and Jamie (19).