The recent deaths of former Pennsylvania state Sen. Hardy Williams and businessman and civic leader Percy Sutton will be a great loss for the African-American community and all supporters of equality and justice. Both Williams, 78, and Sutton, 89, were trained as lawyers who used their legal training and skills to advance the empowerment of their people.

They were both trailblazers who broke down barriers and opened doors and served as mentors for other African-American politicians and leaders.

While Democrats, Williams and Sutton embodied political independence they were not afraid to buck the party when its goals were not in the best interest of the community.

Williams helped to shape the political landscape for African-Americans in Philadelphia and the state.

Williams, a Philadelphia native, graduated from West Philadelphia High School and went on to become the first Black basketball player at Penn State University where he later became team captain and led Penn State to its first tournament in 32 years.

The scholar-athlete went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was elected to the honor society.

For more than 40 years, Williams worked as a lawyer, state representative and state senator.

In 1971, Williams was the first African-American candidate for mayor to garner widespread public support, paving the way for the future elections of African-American mayors of Philadelphia, W. Wilson Goode, John F. Street and Michael A. Nutter.

Williams championed the fight against police brutality and fought to increase employment and business opportunities for the African American community.

Sutton, a Texas native, served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, before coming to Harlem, where he would later become a multimillionaire radio station owner in New York, politician and civil rights attorney who represented Malcolm X.

He served in the New York State Assembly and was Manhattan borough president.

Like Williams, Sutton fought against police brutality. In 1999 after the police killing of Amadou Diallo, Sutton, then 79, laid down in protest outside police headquarters.

He was a power broker who used his clout to increase opportunities for African-Americans in New York in business and politics.

Williams and Sutton were exceptional men who used their skills and hard-earned status and position to pave the way for others and help the less fortunate.

These true two champions of the community will be missed.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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