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After Pearl Wise's son was shot dead in a bar in Hellam Township in 2018, she didn't have the proper resources available to help her process that loss. 

Wise, the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday Supper at Lincoln Charter School, focused her conversation on a similar sentiment — that no child should have to endure trauma spurred by violence without help from others, the way Wise battled her trauma by herself.

"What help are they getting?" said Wise, of Lower Windsor Township. "We need to get children to know that this isn't a normal way of life, so they can grow up and help make this world better."

A crowd of about 200 packed into a large gymnasium on Sunday, Jan. 19, ready to be served dinner, listen to guest speakers and watch a preview of a documentary about Lincoln Charter School.

"It's just a time for us to break bread together," said Anne Clark, affirmation assistant principal for Lincoln Charter School. "If you can break bread with somebody, you can eat with somebody, you're not too far from solving the problems of our community."

Clark said the theme for the Sunday Supper was preventing violence and crime, with several speakers and guests from groups including the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the Racial Justice Committee and the Census Bureau reinforcing such topics.

"It's just so disheartening for anybody that lives here, especially for educators, what's happening with the youth in our community," Clark said.  

Wise, who formed the York County chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, said speaking at the Martin Luther King Jr. supper is an honor for her because of her personal connections with advocating against and ending racism. 

Wise's son, Chad Merrill, died after defending a friend who was being attacked by racial slurs in a Hellam Township bar in 2018. James Saylor, who killed Merrill, was sentenced last year to life in prison without parole.

"It totally blows me away, because before my son died, you'd never get me up here to speak," Wise said. "It's like he's given me the courage, this is my way of honoring him."

Serenity Real, an ambassador at Lincoln Charter School, said she loves the Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday Supper because it gives her a chance to meet all different people and make new friends. 

Serenity, 11, has a passion for science and research and said she felt personally inspired by King's work to be a better person.

"He inspired me to get closer with all different people," Serenity said.

— Reach Tina Locurto at or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

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