After decades in public service, former 8th District state Sen. Hardy Williams died Jan. 7.
Often being in the right place at the right time can form one’s destiny, as Point Breeze native and newly elected state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson well knows.
In 1998, after graduating from college, Johnson was walking near his old residence at 18th and Wharton streets when he ran into then-retired state Sen. Hardy Williams. Having admired him from afar for years, Johnson introduced himself and asked Williams if he would be willing to speak at the Philadelphia Chapter of City Year, a national youth organization of which Johnson was a member, about the importance of community service.
To Johnson’s surprise, the senator agreed.
City Year got its guest speaker, but Johnson met the man who would inspire him to pursue a lifetime of community service and activism, eventually leading to politics, Johnson said days after Williams’ Jan. 7 death at age 78 at the Kearsley Nursing Community in West Philadelphia due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
“My heart is saddened, but I’m inspired by his legacy,” the 36-year-old said. “He would mentor me and talk to me about advocating for the needs of people and putting the needs of people first. I was blessed and fortunate to get a lot of the wisdom and learn the best practices from a social advocacy standpoint.”
Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who succeeded his father in the same office in ’98, when he was elected, said he believes his father’s political legacy was about knocking down barriers.
“I believe that Barack Obama was president of the United States because of Hardy Williams. Mayor [Maynard] Jackson [of Atlanta], [Mayor] Coleman Young [of Detroit], they all decided in the late ’60s and ’70s to take on the barriers of exclusion. They and my father took the outcome of the civil rights movement and used it aggressively in the political arena,” Williams told the Review.
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