The question to the kids Tuesday morning was simple, yet profound:
What would they do if they were president?
The answers — given in essay form by Philadelphia students ages 7 to 17 — were compelling.
Many answered that they would end racism or solve the issue of contentious police relations in their communities.
Maybe they were light on specifics, but they were full of emotion.
Or humor: One boy, sweltering in the sun with uncounted others, wrote that if he were president, he'd be writing in the air-conditioning.
The event was organized by the Mighty Writers literacy program, which invited kids from all over the city to gather on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The goal: set a Guinness world record for the largest creative writing lesson.
Tim Whitaker, executive director of Mighty Writers, was hoping for 3,000 students on Tuesday, and said 3,500 students were registered.
By 10 a.m., the steps of the Art Museum were packed with groups of students representing schools and organizations from across the city.
Looking at the crowd, Melanie Rodgers, a site coordinator at Universal Audenried Charter High School in Grays Ferry, remarked, "Just bringing so many kids together, especially during the summer — it highlights to the city just how important the education of our youth is."
She added, "There's definitely a lot that's going on in our communities and our society right now, and I love that the kids get to voice their opinions."
Universal Alcorn Middle Years Academy student Da'Shona Leigh, 13, said that if she were president, one issue she would focus on is women's equality.
"Men get paid more than the average woman for doing the work that the woman does in the same exact way," she said. "That's something that more people need to look into, more people need to understand."
Joshua Williams, 15, who will start high school at the LINC (Learning in New Contexts) high school in North Philadelphia this fall, said he would work to end police brutality and racism.
"Our youth in our communities shouldn't have to fear the cops that are supposed to protect them, just because of the bad cops," he explained.
Other essays were more general, but still focused on trying to make the world a better place.
"If I were president, I would give out free food, free houses, and money all over the world," said Stanley Chen, 10, a student at Christopher Columbus Charter School.
Whitaker said that while the prospect of a Guinness record added excitement, his main goal was for the event to bring attention to literacy education.
"I think Philly kids are incredibly underestimated in many ways, so we thought this would be a great way to shine the light on the literacy crisis," he said.
Sunny Morgan, a sophomore at West Chester University and a product of Mighty Writers, said the program "changed my outlook on what I wanted to do with my life, which is writing and journalism."
But she emphasized the importance of writing for all students, regardless of what they plan to pursue in life.
"You have to write essays to get into college or to fill out job applications," she said. "It's really important that people learn how to write and write with clarity."
The gathering of children on the steps was impressive, but it won't be known if it was enough for a record until the essays are tabulated by Guinness officials.
According to Guinness adjudicator Michael Empric, the record Mighty Writers is aiming for requires that over 90 percent of participants must be paying attention throughout the lesson and produce a story. Results are not expected for at least a few days.