HARRISBURG, Pa. -- They sat at the head of the John Harris High School auditorium, in front of a couple hundred parents, peers, and leaders. Their ages would say they are still kids, but with each word, they acted like adults.
They are Harrisburg's youth. On this Thursday night, they were panelists for a town hall event hosted by the Harrisburg School District. For the first time, a forum led by the city's future leaders, for its future residents.
Five current or recent Harrisburg-area high school graduates, sharing their thoughts on the biggest issues facing the city currently, and what needs to happen to ensure the city's future doesn't face the crime and violence it does today. The town hall led by Nick Burd and Salome Hall, students at Harrisburg's Sci-Tech campus, Asher Potts and Chyna Eubanks-Brown, students at Harrisburg High School, and Elijah Fields, a recent graduate of Central Dauphin East High School.
After an introduction by Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, and opening remarks by Police Chief Tom Carter and Dereasha Leaks, whose son, Rayon Broxton, was killed in a late November shooting, the forum was turned over to the students.
"The youth here aren't scared," said Burd, who was first to speak. "I was taught by my mom you can be as strong as you want but a bullet can end everything.
"Harrisburg, we need a mom."
Parents were a major theme of the evening, with the panel imploring adults in the audience to pay closer attention to their children; not only to give them more love, but also more discipline when necessary.
"The police force and politicians are all asking what can we do?" posed Elijah Fields. "Y'all can't do nothing. It starts in the house."
After suffering 19 homicides in 2015, Harrisburg has seen its first two killings this year in the last four days. On Monday, Harrisburg Police say 19-year-old Andre Parker was shot multiple times after being lured onto the 300 block of Burchfield Street as part of a robbery. Thursday morning, police say Eric Byrd was shot and killed in daylight near Berryhill Street in Allison Hill.
Mayor Papenfuse said he hoped Thursday's town hall would be the start of a series of local youth-led forums. The next one will be at Susquehanna Township, at a date and time to be determined.