NEXTGen Detroiters to Watch
Meet Lauren and Jordan Acker, married 3 years, now a jFamily with baby Jenna on board. U of M alumni, proud to be Detroiters, building careers in education, law and community service.
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
July 21, 2015
As former Washington insiders, now NEXTGen Detroiters, Lauren and Jordan Acker have interesting stories to share. Ask them to dinner sometime. You might hear about the parties and inaugural balls, not to mention the inner workings of the Department of Homeland Security.
Lauren of Winnetka, Illinois, and Jordan, a fourth-generation Detroiter from Huntington Woods, were college sweethearts, the same age, but an academic year apart at the University of Michigan. First jobs and graduate studies—paths to their separate careers—would lead them to different cities, but “Almost right from the start,” says Lauren, “We knew we were meant for each other.”
With a B.A. in History and a mind for politics, Jordan followed his heart to Washington, DC, where he worked on staff for U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Detroit) for the House Judiciary Committee following the 2006 elections. His experience in that position fueled his interest in law and led him to American University Washington College of Law where he earned his J.D. in 2010.
Pursuing her passion for elementary education, Lauren joined Teach For America after graduation in 2007 and headed to Baltimore, MD. There she taught third and fourth grades for Baltimore Public Schools and earned her M.A. in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University. She then moved to DC to work on staff at Teach For America, later taking a position with Potomac Lighthouse Public Charter School where she became a Teacher Leader Fellow, earning the Shining Star Award for her students’ high achievement.
While Lauren worked to develop her teaching skills in Washington, Jordan jumped into politics as a volunteer on several campaigns, including President Obama’s historic 2008 campaign. Following graduation from law school, he spent three months as an associate in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel before being appointed by President Obama, in 2011, to be an attorney advisor to Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security. While there, he worked on cyber security, immigration and other security issues.
An elegant couple, with a fun-loving sense of style, Jordan and Lauren were married in 2012 at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. (The event received notice in the New York Times.) While life in Washington was exciting, marriage and the pull of family and a close-knit Jewish community drew Jordan and Lauren back to the city where they first met. Today, Jordan is proud to be a part of his father’s firm Goodman Acker, specializing in personal injury litigation. He and Lauren are beaming new parents of Jenna, born March 23. Additionally, they are the slightly frazzled owners of a rambunctious labradoodle puppy named Wrigley.
On family background, early influences
Jordan: I grew up five blocks from where we now live in Huntington Woods. When I first went off to college, I didn’t plan on ever coming back to Detroit. But I grew up with deep roots in the Jewish community and a sense of history here.
My grandparents grew up in Detroit. My grandfather attended Cass Tech, and my grandmother went to Central High School– in a very different way than I grew up in the burbs. My dad learned to play basketball at what’s now the Northwest Activity Center (the gym is still there!). My grandparents moved from Detroit to Oak Park in 1967, and my dad went to Berkley High. Huntington Woods is where most of our family is centered now . . . my grandparents, uncle and numerous cousins all live within this square-mile little town.
Lauren: Jordan and I have similar family backgrounds. I grew up in the quiet, north suburbs of Chicago. My dad owned a clothing store in Winnetka. My mom worked for her family real estate business. Like Jordan, I come from a close-knit family. Both of us have younger sisters. My sister, Sarah, lives in Chicago and is going to be married next June. Jordan’s sister lives in Brooklyn.
mJDet: What early influences drew you to your profession?
J: My parents have been involved in politics as long as I can remember. My dad was an intern for Former Governor Jim Blanchard when he was a Congressman for Oakland County in the spring of 1976. From Blanchard, he caught his own political bug. I remember as a kid – in then-heavily Republican West Bloomfield — passing out lawn signs for Michael Dukakis. I was four years old.
What my parents passed down to me was the idea that public service is really noble. I believe there’s nothing better that one can do. And it’s a tradition we continue at Goodman Acker — from helping our clients, to helping medical providers navigate the no fault system, to our political consulting and election law work.
myJDet: Lauren, when did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
L: Growing up, I always had great teachers and loved school. During college, I learned more about educational inequity and became very motivated to do something to improve education in low-income communities. I strongly believe that all children deserve great teachers and an excellent education- it shouldn’t be a privilege based on where you are lucky enough to be born and raised. I joined Teach For America after graduation and moved to Baltimore to teach fourth grade for two years. I then joined Jordan in DC where I worked on staff at Teach For America for two years, and then taught fourth grade at a charter school. For the past three years, in both DC and Detroit, I’ve been working directly with students as well as in leadership positions, coaching teachers and planning and leading professional development.
I’d say what I love most about being a teacher is that you are always learning with your students. Though I’ve significantly improved since my first year (which I admit was a total disaster), there are still so many ways in which I want to keep growing.
On law school and life inside the Beltway
J: I always figured I’d go to law school someday, but didn’t realize that someday was going to be so soon after moving to Washington. I absolutely loved that experience.
You hear a lot of horror stories about how cut-throat and competitive law students are, but the people at American weren’t like that at all. Generally, we were idealists and activists, not looking for a big payday sitting in cubicles doing corporate law. We were looking to go into public service, and there was a collaborative spirit in being there that appealed to me.
myJDet: How did you get from law school to the Obama campaign?
J: After taking the bar exam (in Michigan) in the summer of 2010, I went back to DC looking for a job. I searched for a few months — it was tough being a Democrat as many of my friends and colleagues were losing their jobs. A friend working in the White House called to tell me that the Obama Administration needed people to assist with vetting and placement, and, if I could do that, they’d find a policy job for me in the administration. So, of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
Basically, the way it works is like a boot camp. From the moment you walk into the EOB (the Executive Office Building) on staff in the office of Presidential Personnel — the only thing you think about is work. It’s all about the next deadline, the next assignment, the next project you have to get done. Within a few months, most people move on to something else. On my last day, I got an appointment by the President to move to the Department of Homeland Security. I remember clearly leaving the EOB on my last day, walking past the tourists on the street taking pictures of the building where I worked for what was a brief, but unforgettable time, and I realized what a rare and privileged experience I had.
myJDet: What did you do in the Department of Homeland Security?
J: I started as an attorney advisor to Secretary Janet Napolitano, then moved over to work for the Deputy Secretary, Jane Holl Lute. Immigration and cyber security were her two big issues. My job was to provide her daily briefing, which meant I’d spend my day getting ready for her next day’s agenda, preparing whatever material she might need to get ready for meetings with TSA, with Science and Technology, with the Coast Guard, whatever was on her schedule. Beyond that, she was a Georgetown and Stanford-educated lawyer and a voracious reader. Her sharp intellect made for a challenging work environment – and many long nights of research.
myJDet: What was your greatest challenge?
J: The week of the Boston bombing. It started as a regular Monday. Not much on the calendar, but just after lunch, everyone’s Blackberry starts buzzing with these news alerts, “Potential Terror Attack in Boston!” Suddenly, we were no longer talking about daily briefings; it was minute-to-minute, keeping everyone updated.
What I found most incredible about that week was the way our law enforcement system reacted. Working around the clock, they had the names within hours, and within a day, they knew everything there was to know about those two alleged masterminds, and through the great work of our law enforcement officials, had them both either captured or killed within five days. That speaks to the great work that we did, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.
myJDet: Got a favorite story about President Obama that you can share?
J: Yes. I was sitting at my computer – in deep concentration on something or another – when suddenly I see this large hand on my shoulder, and there’s the Voice, “How’s it going?” I thought it was my friend James from the next-door cubicle imitating the President! I said something like, “That’s pretty good, James.” And I looked up to see President Obama just smiling . . . as he walked away without saying another word. So there it was, my one shining moment alone with the President — and I thought it was someone doing an imitation of the President!
On moving back to Detroit
myJDet: Since moving back to Detroit in 2013, what have been your impressions?
L: For Jordan, it was something of a homecoming. For me, it was more of a matter of making some choices about the quality of life — choices that can’t be matched in cities like Chicago and DC.
J: We didn’t know what to expect, but we had family and connections here. We also had some good friends who had moved from DC to Huntington Woods.
L: In DC, so many of our friends were transplants. They had come and gone. Here we have a support system. In DC, we had a 700-square foot apartment. Here we have a home in Huntington Woods. We have easy access to the things going on all over the city. And it’s easy to meet people. Everyone is so welcoming and inclusive. I’ve never felt like that in any other place I’ve lived. Move to Detroit and it’s like you instantly become part of the community. It’s very settling to be so connected. I feel like we’ll have friends forever here.
On NEXTGen and next things
myJDet: What got you involved with Federation and to join the NEXTGen Board?
J: My dad was on the Board of Hebrew Free Loan, my parents were active in the synagogue, but Federation was never an organization where they were involved. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure at first that I wanted to get involved myself. But ultimately, I feel that the way Federation has created NEXTGen Detroit as a response to the needs of the young Jewish community has made it something Lauren and I want to be a part of.
L: Jordan and I participated in a NEXTGen program called Entrée. As a relative newcomer to the community, I found it a wonderful way to meet people, while learning about all the agencies and the programs Federation supports.
J: Even for me, Federation would seem a bit intimidating without NEXTGen. It’s such a complex organization, with all these acronyms and programs you have no idea what they do. And, even if you have interest in helping out, you wouldn’t know where to start. So having the Entrée program goes a long way and I think it’s really effective.
myJDet: What’s next for you?
J: A nonprofit startup! With the mission to raise awareness among political, business, moral and grassroots leaders here in Detroit and throughout the country, about the plight of Northern Iraqi Christians, I’m working with John Oram of the Detroit Chaldean community and Tzvi Raviv to launch an organization we call the Biblical Christian Rescue Foundation. It’s very early on in the development, but we feel once it’s launched, the Jewish community will want to know more. So stay tuned for our news.
Restaurants: L: Pizza House is still an old favorite in Ann Arbor. J: Leo’s! Everywhere.
Place to meet for coffee or drinks: Great Lakes Coffee in Midtown
Building in the Detroit skyline: Penobscot
Place to take kids/visitors: Detroit Zoo, just around the corner. The Big House (Michigan Stadium) or The Arb.
Vacation place in MI: L: Traverse City, Mackinac Island and Pictured Rocks. J: Camp Michigania (I’ve -been going there since I was four.)
Sports: Michigan Football and Basketball
Jewish Food: L: Lox! J: It would be bagels and cream cheese, but I’ve been gluten-free for five years.
Guilty pleasure: L: Kardashian and reality shows. J: Taylor Swift
Never leave home without:
L: The baby! And a book. For book-free moments. J: My wedding ring. (Because I lose everything, and the fact that I haven’t lost it is a minor miracle.)
L: All the Light We Can Not See, by Anthony Doerr
J: Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, by David McKittrick and David McVea.