An entrepreneurial mind seeking to address Philly’s alarming gun violence
Mazzie Casher is co-founder of the Philly Truce app, and will be the 2023 AL DÍA Top Entrepreneur honoree in the Changemaker category.
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For each of the past two years, Philadelphia has recorded over 500 homicides, further quantifying a gun violence crisis plaguing the city.
It wasn’t since the early 1990s that the city had seen its homicide rate reach such high levels.
During that time, Mazzie Casher was a student at the now-demolished William Penn High School.
Fast forward two decades later and the city steadily began reaching toward that number, continuing an upward trend of gun violence and homicides, surpassing 300 homicides in each of the previous three years.
Late in 2020, after having spent several years away from Philadelphia, Casher decided to visit and ran into a childhood friend, Steven Pickens.
Pickens, whom he had known since high school, was highly concerned about the violence facing the city, prompting the two of them to start talking.
“That interaction and discussion eventually led to Philly Truce in a pretty short amount of time,” Casher said during an interview with AL DÍA.
The Philly Truce App is a platform that serves to help Philadelphians address conflicts in a nonviolent manner.
Building a Career
Casher was born and raised in Philadelphia. He is originally from the Logan neighborhood before he and his family moved to North Philadelphia, near the Temple University area.
In his words, Casher “grew up with what Philly has to offer.”
However, growing up as a young Black male, he noticed several factors that can serve as barriers to feeling engaged in a proactive and productive way.
Nevertheless, Casher was determined to do so.
By the age of 19, he made the career decision to enter the entertainment industry.
“I was a recording artist and songwriter, and over time that led into other things,” said Casher, noting that he also began writing screenplays, as well.
Casher would soon make a name for himself through those avenues.
While he found success in breaking into the entertainment industry, he reached a point where he felt he wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be.
As a result, he also spent time working as a truck driver to help supplement his income.
His career as an artist allowed him to tour across the U.S., and spend time living outside of Philadelphia for over a decade.
However, he eventually moved back to the city that raised him in 2021, with the desire to make a positive impact.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
After running into each other, Casher and Pickens had several conversations about the steady rise of violence throughout Philadelphia.
With community concern as the main emotion, those conversations began to unravel some of the many factors that have led to the increased violence.
“We realized that we in Philadelphia live in a culture of violent conflict resolution,” Casher said.
Casher reflected on the culture he was exposed to growing up as a young Black male, much of it stemming from the ability to fight and defend yourself.
From there, the two of them decided they wanted to do something about it.
Casher was keen on how society has been disrupted by the advancement of technology.
More specifically, he highlighted how Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the cab and hotel industries, respectively.
That dynamic served as a catalyst for finding a way to address the matter.
“We all have a phone, and we all conduct much of our lives on our phones,” he said.
That thought sparked the idea of launching an app.
From there, Casher and Pickens partnered with a software engineer to help develop the Philly Truce app, which officially launched in May 2021.
To use the app, someone in need of help fills out a form. The form is then retrieved by a volunteer mediator who will reach out to ensure that the person who requested the help is safe.
Then a call is made to gather more details about the individual, the issue, and what kind of help is needed.
All the information is then reviewed and a plan on how to mediate the issue is developed.
The implementation of mediators within the app is the main driver toward addressing the violent conflict resolution methods that have permeated through Philadelphia communities.
“This is for the community to take care of itself,” said Casher about the app.
Casher shared that before the launch, they put out an open call to recruit volunteers who were interested in being mediators. About 30 finished the training in order to become mediators.
Those 30 individuals were then responsible for making themselves available for when an individual requested help through the app.
However, as the team looked to build on its initial progress, it became clear what needed to happen next.
“What we learned early on was that the best way to get the trust of the community was to be out in the streets,” Casher noted.
From there, Casher and Pickens started organizing community engagement days to both help community members learn about the app, and also introduce healthier approaches toward resolving conflicts.
Overall, the goal is for Philly Truce to serve as a tool, to get out in front of the problem — large or small — before it escalates into a violent situation.
The app provides a scenario where the two individuals can be face-to-face and hash out their differences in a healthy manner with help from a trained mediator.
Addressing the Culture
Casher noted that upon launching the app, one of the main messages shared was that Philly Truce is not affiliated with the police.
He noted that the reasoning was to dissociate this endeavor from “the snitching mentality” that often serves as a factor in many incidents escalating to the point of violence.
Utilizing the Philly Truce app is simply a way to ask for help, not to snitch.
“We have to educate and normalize what the difference is,” said Casher.
Towards the end of 2021 and into 2022, Philly Truce started to partner with different community organizations to increase awareness and bring people together.
That then expanded to going into schools, churches, community centers, and other facilities that would allow them to congregate and meet individuals — particularly youth — where they are.
“We’re trying to save lives here,” said Casher.
Given the many influences that young people have in their daily lives, the community has a key role to play in shaping how those individuals deal with situations as they get older.
“I think the perfect solution to this is to layer another cultural socialization curriculum on top of the educational curriculum because most success in life is going to depend on your ability to navigate relationships,” he added.
Bringing Change to Philly Communities
Beginning this year, Philly Truce will be going deeper into the city’s most vulnerable communities to help engage those on the other side of the spectrum, regarding violent conflict resolution.
Casher is committed to continually expanding engagement and interactions.
“It really is about the community reclaiming our power, and reclaiming our rights and our responsibilities, as well,” he said.
Addressing the city’s violence is a team effort, and starts by treating it with the level of severity it warrants.
“That’s primarily the whole impetus behind everything we try to do,” said Casher. “The mission is to make every community functional.”
Later this month, Casher will be honored as a 2023 AL DÍA Top Entrepreneur in the Changemaker category.
This award is bestowed upon someone who brings together their entrepreneurial venture while exploring a space where our communities often aren’t represented.
For Casher, the honor is great and humbling, and motivates him to continue making a positive impact.
“That keeps me grounded,” he said.
The honor, to him, feels like a form of validation that his work is being seen.
“It feels like the universe and God has given me a vote of confidence,” he shared.
While he is the co-founder of Philly Truce, this is an effort that he wants and believes should go far beyond him or any single individual.
“It should be an institution that can outlive me, it should be an institution that can outlive gun violence being the most dysfunctional thing we face,” he added.
“Changemaker means we have to set this thing up so that change can be seen and felt over time… the award is cool because it lets us know we’re on the way. Changemaking itself is to ensure to the best of our ability a future unlike we could have imagined.”