This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams met Thursday with 60 Kensington High School seniors to talk about education and the law.
The visit was organized by English teacher John Lavin, who works closely with the school’s social studies department to bridge the gap between social issues and literature. A visit from someone like Williams is important to students’ understanding of the world around them, he said.
“I believe students have deep concerns about trends they witness in society," Lavin said. "One way of working with them to express those concerns and their insights is to have them talk about their rights with policymakers.”
The discussion was held in the school auditorium, where Williams shared and fielded questions about his journey to becoming a district attorney and his opinions on the criminal justice system and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If we’re being honest,” Williams said, “we know there’s a lot of problems in the criminal justice system. Ours still is the best criminal justice system in the whole world, but we’ve got to make it more fair, more transparent, so people will trust it more. And the way to do that is by people participating.”
As for Black Lives Matter activists, he said, they’re no different from the forefathers who founded this country because they protested for a better society. But he questioned their commitment to finding solutions after calling out problems.
“I kind of differ a little bit with the Black Lives Matter movement people,” he said. “They just don’t see it as their responsibility to be about the solution of things. They just want to say what’s wrong. I respect people that want to do that, but I think we also need people who are going to come to the table on how we’re going to make things better.“
Williams was candid and engaging with students while discussing the importance of education and civic participation. Midway through, the students thanked him for his visit with a gift – a tie bearing Kensington High School colors.
“One of the most important things I can do is to come and try to tell them my life experience,” Williams said after the talk, “so they can learn from my success and failures. People were mentors to me, and to be honest, I think kids appreciate that.”