Alex Dutton is standing at 22nd and Ellsworth, in South Philadelphia. He leans back against the side of a building on the corner, and tilts his head to shield his eyes from the setting sun. Dutton speaks softly, with an understated confidence that signals that he’s comfortable speaking out, but wouldn’t mind blending in either. At this moment, however, it’s impossible for Dutton to blend in. He is standing in front of We the Youth, a mural created by iconic pop artist Keith Haring. The wall is alive with dancing characters – children specifically – painted in bright reds, yellows, and blues. Originally created in 1987, the mural was recently renovated in 2013 by Philadelphia’s renowned Mural Arts program, with funding and support from the Keith Haring Foundation.
The setting is perfect for Dutton, who earned his J.D. from Temple Law in 2015 and spent most of his time as a law student advocating for the youth of Philadelphia. Dutton volunteered extensively with the School Discipline Advocacy Service (SDAS), a coalition of law students housed at Temple Law School who work to stem the school-to-prison pipeline by advocating on behalf of students and parents at school disciplinary hearings. Dutton took his first SDAS case as a first-year student and his last case after third-year finals, watching as the program grew from serving fewer than 10 young people to more than 100. “It truly defined my Temple Law experience,” he says.
Dutton won for his work in building a youth court program at Strawberry Mansion high school. His work was described as sparking, “a paradigm shift in law school pro bono activity” and “transformative” in nature.
That’s a bold statement when you consider that Dutton also won the PJSD Pro Bono Publico Award in 2015. The award, presented by the National Association for Law Placement, is given to a single law student nationwide for his pro bono contributions to society. Dutton won for his work in building a youth court program at Strawberry Mansion high school. His work was described as sparking, “a paradigm shift in law school pro bono activity” and “transformative” in nature. In accepting the award, Dutton deflected praise to the Law School for its passionate support of the pro bono efforts of many Temple Law students and faculty and for “giving law students a platform for making change.”
Dutton will spend the next year working with children through an Independence Fellowship with the Education Law Center, where he’ll provide representation to young people in truancy proceedings. He’s not sure what he’ll be working on after his fellowship ends, but he is sure that he’ll continue to work with the youth of Philadelphia. “Our schools expend so much energy excluding students from school, just to kick the can down the road—to another school, or worse, to our public dependency systems, including prison,” says Dutton. “Why not spend this energy empowering our students?”