When Anton Lendor sits on the steps of 395 Fairmount Avenue in Newark, the house his parents took him back to after his birth at Beth Israel Hospital in 1972, the memories don't just come rushing back. They speak to him from the street itself - and then they burn.
"At first, we didn't have to go anywhere for anything. All the kids on the block used to run under the fire hydrant spray in the summertime. Then I remember the fires all night," said Lendor, 43, an attorney with the firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole in Teaneck, as he looked up from a patch of the original red bricks that formed the stretch of his childhood street in between Springfield Avenue and 16th Avenue, peeking through the newer blacktop.
"I remember being ushered out of our house at three or four years old in the middle of the night a lot," he said. "It was bananas."
Lendor was describing a time in Newark when the area around Springfield Avenue, once one of the city's main commercial arteries, that was not destroyed by the 1967 civil disturbances was cauterized by a rolling inferno fueled by greed, insurance fraud and general mayhem.
But Lendor's story is ultimately not one of being burned out, but of his efforts to build a professional life, now as an attorney with experience designed to help rebuild and redevelop Newark.
The son of Trinidadian immigrants, Lendor noted how his personal foundation was formed by a nexus of family, friends and teachers that stretched from his boyhood block in Newark's Central Ward to just over the Newark/Irvington border line near Chancellor Avenue, where he moved with his parents and four siblings in the late 1970s.
His brothers and sisters were graduates of Newark public schools, and Lendor remembers the benign, top-down pressure from his older siblings to succeed, no matter what else what happening around him.
"One of my sisters went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and she introduced my brothers and I to one of her friends at the time, who went to school with her. He was from Baltimore, a black belt, a Muslim and athletic. He was cool and he knew the streets. But he was also a pre-med major and he became a doctor. He was the type of role model that my brothers and I needed at the time.
"The only thing different from me and some of the friends I had grew up with, who wound up either dead or in jail, was that I had exposure to alternatives based on the experiences of my older brothers and sisters. For me, it could've gone either way, but with the high expectations and examples from my family together, they all saved me." added Lendor.
After additional encouragement from two teachers in particular in the Irvington school system, Ms. Kearny, who pushed Lendor past the limits of his 6th grade math class, and Mr. Inman, his 8th grade teacher, who got Lendor an eye-opening summer janitor job that included cleaning up the Irvington Police Department holding cell, Lendor played it straight, hit the books and transformed himself from a borderline student to an academic all-star.
He graduated from Irvington High School with honors, then went to Rutgers-New Brunswick's College of Engineering, where earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering.
Hoping to apply his engineering skills toward undoing the devastation he witnessed growing up in Newark, Lendor’s first job out of college was building the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), a key cog in the engine of downtown Newark's revival. This experience started turning the gears in Lendor's mind toward earning another diploma.
"When I was exposed to the legal aspects of construction, I saw a window of possibility," Lendor said. "Through a combination of the law and engineering, I could find a more comprehensive way to help in the rebuilding of Newark and other urban communities.”
Lendor went back to school at night a few blocks away from NJPAC, graduating from Rutgers-Newark law school in 2000. After honing his legal chops in a variety of jobs, Lendor joined the firm of Maraziti Falcon in Short Hills focusing on redevelopment and municipal law.
In 2014, Lendor joined DeCotiis, recently rated by legal information services firm Martindale-Hubbell within the top one quarter of one percent of the country’s law firms since 2012, broadening his specialties to include land use and commercial real estate in addition to redevelopment and municipal law.
Although he appreciates all of his prior experiences, Lendor noted that the excellence of the attorneys and depth of the practice areas at DeCotiis is invaluable in assisting communities such as Newark. He also said that he likes the family-atmosphere at DeCotiis with all of the support and continuity that the word family implies.
Lendor has tried to give back to his community. He has served on both Newark's zoning and historical preservation boards. He mentors first time male offenders in the municipal court system. He has worked on numerous school construction jobs, as well as a Habitat for Humanity project on 15th Avenue. He has found time to be a guest speaker in local public schools, and to tutor local children in physics and mathematics.
During an impromptu tour of Newark, Lendor took out a scrapbook that had two sets of photos that had particular meaning for him: one of the building at the corner of Halsey and Bleeker Streets that he bought, gutted and refurbished himself, the other of his wife and three-year old daughter.
Although he could live in the suburbs, Lendor explained why he came home to Newark's Central Ward to raise his family and build a life.
"When I was growing up, except for my siblings and their friends, I never met doctors, lawyers, or engineers. I want children in Newark to know that we are here. That's why I live here. And there are hundreds of people like me here, too. Hopefully, I could inspire someone the way my sister’s friend inspired my brothers and I," Lendor said.
"Newark still has problems with crime and education. But the people here are great, and if we clean up our problems, Newark will be great. I remember the ashes falling all around me. But I also remember that every block that I lived on, and the kids that I grew up with, are an extension of my family. I remember where we came from, and I see where we are going," Lendor said. "We're family."