Chigozie Onyema

Fighting for a West Ward that works for every family.

CHIGOZIE was born to working class parents in Newark, NJ. He spent his early years in the former Hill Manor Apartments, an affordable housing complex in the city’s Central Ward, and later lived in different parts of Essex County. He is now a homeowner in the West Ward, just steps away from where his parents first shared an apartment, started a family, and established their love for the City of Newark.

Chigozie developed his commitment to justice and equity from his experiences in suburban public schools. At 18 years old, just after graduating from high school, he ran for School Board Member in the Maplewood/South Orange School District. Chigozie ran because the public schools had an unjust tracking system. Black students were disproportionately tracked in remedial and lower-level courses, while white students were overwhelmingly placed in honors classes. The local teacher’s union endorsed his candidacy, and his progressive campaign energized students and parents. He came up short on Election Day, but he learned that when we fight, we win, even if it does not happen right away. After the election, the Superintendent agreed to retire, the high school principal did not receive tenure, and tracking began in high school, rather than middle school, for science and social studies. And just last year, the school district settled a lawsuit with Black parents that requires them to take steps to integrate classrooms.


Today, Chigozie is an accomplished

attorney, community organizer, & activist.

His professional and organizing work seeks to broaden the scope of democracy to include everyone and deepen the concept to include every relationship. He recently served as the Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, under Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver, where he focused on economic justice and led a policy team that evaluated the impact of state and federal legislation on the department’s programs and objectives. Prior to public service, Chigozie fought to remove employment barriers for individuals with criminal convictions, through his work as a Staff Attorney for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

Chigozie believes that the people closest to the problem, should be closest to power. He co-founded the Maroon Project, an activist incubator, based in Newark, that creates spaces for students, organizers, and residents to impact issues of social justice through political education, civic engagement, and leadership development. Last summer, during the dual crises of COVID-19 and the murders of Ahmad Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor, the Maroon Project launched Newark Freedom Summer 2020. It was an initiative that stood in the tradition of youth led, intergenerational community organizing made popular by SNCC during the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Over the course of the summer, college students participated in virtual civic education courses, grounded in the literature of the Black organizing tradition, while creating and implementing a plan to distribute 60,000 face mask and 5,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to underserved communities, at the height of the pandemic. Newark Freedom Summer was a grassroots intervention that not only responded to the COVID-19 crisis, but also to the preexisting conditions of racial and economic injustice.

his studies

Chigozie earned his J.D. from New York University School of Law, B.A. in Afro-American Studies from Howard University, and A.A. in Liberal Arts from Essex County College. He has received numerous honors for his advocacy and organizing, including “40 Under 40” recognition by the National Bar Association as one of the nation’s best advocates. He also received the 40 Under 40 Rising Stars award from the NYU Law Alumni of Color Association and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the NYU Black Allied Law School Association. The Congressional Black Caucus named him an “emerging leader.”