on warm In the afternoon, two 16-year-old boys from North Philadelphia signed a contract. By etching their names on a piece of paper, they vowed to call for a truce.
In the months leading up to this moment, the teens were competing. Messages cycle back and forth between their phones, and their social media inboxes are crammed with threats. In the end, the two met each other near Six Flags. There, a boy released a hostile warning: Next time, he’ll bring a gun.
When Alisha Corley, one of the boys’ mothers, learned of the confrontation, she panicked. It’s only been 16 years since she tragically lost her 5-year-old daughter to a shot from a firearm.
For families like Corley’s in North Philly, gun violence is a daily part of life. In a sense, the city is a microcosm of a large-scale public health crisis. As of September, 14,516 people in the United States have lost their lives to guns This year, 2021 is set on track to be the deadliest in decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young black men and adolescents 20 times more likely than their white counterparts to die with a firearm.
Desperately trying to prevent her son from becoming a statistician, Corley searches for a way to protect him. landed Philly truce, an app for iOS and Android that allows Philadelphia residents in crisis to hit the “Get Help” button. By doing so, users connect to trained mediators who provide a range of services, including empathetic listening, referral to comprehensive services (such as mental health care) and conflict intervention. The app offers an alternative to the trauma science of calling the police, which in some cases may lead to an intensification of violence.
By connecting to the program, Corley gained access to free mediation services that eventually allowed her son to quietly come face to face with the other boy. After hearing each other, the teens realized that they were more alike than different. Soon, threats of intimidation and violence gave way to dialogue and understanding. By the end of the meeting, they had agreed on a peace agreement: the armistice of Phili.
The masterminds behind this exchange are Stephen Pickens and Mazie Kesher, North Philly residents, friends, and founders of the Philly Truss app. Pickens, a local fire department first responder, and Kasher, a hip-hop artist, met in high school three decades ago. Today, the two men are in their forties and have become mainstays of their local black community.
“In parts of Philadelphia, people are prisoners in their own homes,” Pickens explains. “People have to be careful in certain neighborhoods just to sit on their front steps.”
For most of their lives, Kasher and Pickens felt that gun violence was inevitable. “We became hopeless. We became drugged, and we kind of accepted the narrative that this is the situation in the city. It’s the way it is between blacks and browns, between the poor and the police,” Kasher says. Like many people who have experienced complex trauma rebounds, numbness felt like the only coping mechanism at hand.