Students, York leaders discuss how teens can effectively have a voice

Student panelists Emma Poff, a senior at York Catholic High School, and Isaiah Washington, a junior at South Western High School, speak about how teens can lend their voice to community issues during Martin Library's Teen Town Hall on Wednesday, March 14. (Lindsay VanAsdalan)

After a day of student action, with many participating in walkouts nationwide in response to gun violence in schools, teens gathered in Martin Library to hear from their peers about finding their voice.

"Libraries believe that everyone's voices should be heard in topics of social justice and social commitment," said library director Mina Edmondson.

"Our teens in York County also have something to say," she continued, "and they want to be heard."

Martin Library presented the second in a series of Teen Town Hall discussions Wednesday, March 14, in the library’s Quiet Reading Room.

The discussion was on “Positive Civic and Social Engagement: Finding Your Voice,” and a panel of local leaders, including two students from the library's Teen Leadership Committee, spoke about how they effectively use their voices in the community.

"What we're noticing are teens across the country that are speaking up with what's happening in their schools," said Deb Sullivan, community relations director for York Libraries.

More:VIDEO: Students past and present speak out at Central York safety meeting

"Whatever the issue a teen cares about," she continued, "this is an opportunity to help them learn from local experts in how to find their voice and engage in a positive way in how to make a difference in the world."

Panelists Jamiel Alexander, Sharee McFadden and Edquina Washington speak about how teens can effectively use their voices during Martin Library's Teen Town Hall on Wednesday, March 14. (Lindsay VanAsdalan)

Social media: Panelist Sharee McFadden, who is actively involved in the York City youth organization YaYa Girls, said the issues she faced growing up are still relevant, but now with social media teens are more connected, both to the issues and the help they can get from leaders. 

York City Councilwoman Edquina Washington advised leaders not to just try to direct students but to be open to the ideas that they share through their own mediums.

"You have something new to say," she said of students, "and a new way to do things."

Emma Poff, a student panelist and senior at York Catholic High School, agreed that social media has a benefit but warned against its darker side.

"The terrible thing about social media is it creates two different perspectives," she said, explaining that usually rather than being open to others' opinions, those who use social media are focusing on spreading opinions of their own.

How do I protest? In the wake of local school threats and the national debate over gun laws, effectively lending a voice to those concerns was a major topic of discussion.

More:Students around York County participate in national walkout

More:Students put pencils down, walk out in gun protests

Poff said social discord can be both effective and ineffective. When the school is doing the planning for students, as was the case with many of Wednesday's walkouts, she said they lose some of their effect.

Poff said a feeling during the walkouts and other planned alternatives was, "Wasn't this supposed to be student-run?" 

It's important for students to retain some control, she said, and to keep talking about the issue of gun violence — not just letting it become relevant again with the next shooting.

Isaiah Washington, a student panelist and junior at South Western High School, agreed, saying teens cannot let violence be normalized or become desensitized to it. 

"It's disrespectful," he said, to ignore the pain that the families of shooting victims will feel the rest of their lives.

More:March for Our Lives York: 'Step up and take a stand'

The "Walk Up" movement, in which students make a point to walk up to students in school in kindness rather than focusing on protest, is a positive alternative, Poff said, but there needs to be a balance in which the walkout movement and what it stands for is also acknowledged. 

Several panelists agreed that finding allies was important, and McFadden emphasized the value of staying in York County to make a difference.

The community needs bold and progressive minds to stay or to maintain a connection, McFadden said.

"If not, the only thing to come back to is the same thing," she said.

Kayleigh Deisley, a Red Lion Area High School student, is in Leadership York's Future Leaders of York program, which enabled her to visit area nonprofits and learn about how different organizations can help people in York County.

She agreed it was important to stay in the community and become involved and said she has seen progress in teens’ voices being heard in the community.

“I feel like it’s definitely getting better,” she said.