The 17-year-old son of Bon Appetit staff member Troy Harris was shot in February near his home in South Philadelphia, and Penn students have been fundraising to cover his estimated $10,000 in medical expenses. Bon Appetit is the service provider at Penn Hillel, where Harris works.
On Feb. 15, Troy's son Azir was shot as he was walking home from dinner near his residence in South Philadelphia, Troy told The Daily Pennsylvanian. Since then, Troy said Azir has been in the hospital’s intensive care unit and has been undergoing lung, throat, and back surgery. He said Azir is also likely to remain fully paralyzed below the waist for the rest of his life. For Troy, the high cost of medical bills has only added to the family's stress.
After the incident — which involved two other people who were shot alongside Azir — Troy said he and his family of eight were devastated.
“The house just feels empty, empty. Everybody’s staying in their room,” Harris said. “Immediately after the event, I was lost. My soul left my body. I was just numb.”
Wharton junior Michelle Lyu, who first met Troy during her freshman year at Hillel's Falk Dining Commons, went to visit Azir in the hospital. She then decided to start a fundraiser on March 30 to help the Harris family. Currently, 327 donors have raised over $12,000.
Lyu said she met Troy at the hospital when he was visiting his son, who has been staying there since the incident in February.
“The way Troy stood beside his son at the hospital bed and the way his voice cracked when he said, ‘He’s only 17 years old. That’s my baby’ was heart-wrenching.”
“It’s easy to remain insulated as Penn students to the hard, raw realities of many living in Philadelphia," Lyu said.
Troy estimated the medical cost to be at least $10,000.
“I know that’s going to be over the roof because he has so many CAT scans, so many X-rays. It was like every day he was getting two or three X-rays,” Troy said.
Lyu later added that the fundraiser also intends to aid with associated expenses beyond medical costs, such as implementing handicap accessibility and helping the family move out to a safer neighborhood.
The online fundraiser has taken hold among many members within the Penn community and beyond. Students, faculty, and friends outside Penn have posted on social media platforms and have donated as well.
Yale student Amy Kim, Lyu's friend and Los Angeles native, saw Lyu’s Facebook post about Azir and said she felt compelled to donate.
“I come from a background that isn't familiar with wealth. In fact, I had to take a gap year to help my family afford basic living expenses,” Kim said. “Money can't buy happiness but it can buy survival.”
Many professors have also contributed to the cause. Wharton professor Samir Nurmohamed said he donated out of a feeling of personal responsibility.
“Any one of us could have been Azir. My wife and I routinely go pick up dinner from nearby restaurants. The thought that someone who is connected to our community here at Penn got shot when picking up a pizza feels grossly unfair,” Nurmohamed said.
“We can't just live in a bubble. We have a social responsibility to be engaged with our local community, as the local community has contributed a lot to this university over its history," he added.
Penn Germanic Languages and Literature professor Simon Richter explained in an email why he donated to the fundraiser. “The combination of gun violence, inadequate health care, and the underpayment of people in the food industry [also at Penn] is a trifecta of American injustice and inequity that no one should have to deal with.”
“I feel deeply disappointed it has taken students organizing a fundraiser for someone who has worked at Penn for so long and so diligently to be able to pay his son’s hospital bills," said College sophomore Nomi Martin-Brouillette, who also donated.
Lyu said she hopes the fundraiser reminds others to “broaden the idea of who is included in our Penn community and remember to express care for the workers on campus who support us every day.” She said that Penn students and faculty can return the kindness and show support for Troy who has worked for Penn for 17 years.
Gun violence is prevalent in Philadelphia, even if it may not manifest in school mass shootings. More than 14,500 people have been shot in Philadelphia since 2006, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. While the rate has declined by 38 percent since 2006, one shooting still occurs every six hours.
“For the gun violence in Philadelphia and all around the world, it needs to stop because for one thing to change the world we will have to help each other," Troy said. "So hurting each other ain’t bring no change, especially for the urban community."
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that Troy Harris was a Penn Dining staff member. The current version of this article indicates that Harris is employed by Bon Appetit, the service provider for Penn Hillel.