On the heat in the afternoon, two 16-year-old boys from North Philadelphia signed a contract. By writing their names on a piece of paper, they promised to bring peace.
A few months earlier, the youths were fighting. Messages come and go between their phones, their TV inboxes have risks. Later, the two met at nearby Six Flags. There, a young man raised an alarming warning: One time he will bring a gun.
One of the boys’ mother, Alisha Corley, heard about the argument and was shocked. It had been 16 years since his 5-year-old daughter had died tragically from a gunshot wound.
For families like Corley in North Philly, gun violence is a part of everyday life. In other words, the city serves as a major public health problem. As of September, 14,516 people in the US have lost their lives because of guns this year, I set 2021 to be the deadliest in a few decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black boys and adolescents and 20 more times than their white counterparts die with guns.
Determined to keep her son from reading, Corley sought a way to protect her. He landed Philly Truce, an iOS and Android app that allows vulnerable Philadelphia residents by pressing the “get help” button. In doing so, users are connected to well-trained mediators who provide a wide range of services, including empathetic listening, referral to environmental (such as psychological care), and conflict resolution. The program provides a means of notification of violence by communicating with the police, which can sometimes escalate violence.
In conjunction with the program, Corley was offered free access to care that allowed her son to come face-to-face with the other young man. After hearing about each other, the teens realized that they were more alike than different. Threats and violence were quickly replaced and opened for dialogue and understanding. At the end of the meeting, they agreed on a peace treaty: Philly Truce.
The main contributors to this exchange are Steven Pickens and Mazzie Casher, North Philly citizens, friends, and founders of the Philly Truce program. Pickens, the first responder to the local fire department, and Casher, a hip-hop artist, met in high school thirty years ago. Today, both men are in their 40’s and have served as pillars among blacks.
“In some parts of Philadelphia, people are kept in solitary confinement,” explains Pickens. “People need to be careful in some areas to isolate themselves.”
For most of their lives, Casher and Pickens felt that gun violence was inevitable. We became hopeless. We became stunned, and we simply accepted the fact that this was the case in the city. This is the situation between black people and Brown, between the poor and the police, ”said Casher. Like many people who have experienced severe pain, numbness is the only way to cope with the problem.