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Partners Spotlight: TWINS founders Brandon and Bryan Mathis

When Brandon Mathis recalls how he and his twin brother Bryan grew up, he describes gunshots as “normal” and joining a gang at age 10 as like being in a fraternity. “You got a color, a letter, a family, a name,” Brandon said. More than three decades later, Brandon and Bryan are key Memphis Allies partners in the fight to reduce gun violence through their own nonprofit organization, TWINS: Together We Impact Neighborhoods and Nations. “It’s an opportunity,” said Bryan. “It gives us the freedom to do what has been successful and have the resources, including the data, of Memphis Allies. It’s a perfect fit.” Brandon and Bryan formed TWINS in 2018. For many years, they provided gang reduction and mentoring services in the Memphis and Shelby County Schools. The brothers became part of Memphis Allies in the summer of 2022, implementing SWITCH programming at the initiative’s first location in Frayser as part of the Neighborhood Christian Centers team. They are now focusing their work on Hickory Hill, where Memphis Allies is opening a new office. Memphis Allies also works in the Orange Mound and South Memphis areas, with further expansion on the horizon. Memphis Allies has a goal of tripling its partnerships over the next few months. “As we continue to expand, partners are crucial,” said Executive Director Susan Deason. “This is a good example of an evolving partnership.”

They know they’ve got to eat and feed their family

– Brandon Mathis

Not a game simulation

Memphians know well the impact of gun violence. In 2023, the city had a record 400-plus homicides.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy officially labeled gun violence a public health crisis. In doing so, Murthy said he wanted to take the impact of gun violence “out of the realm of politics and put it into the realm of public health, which is where it belongs.”

Brandon and Bryan are 41 years old—Brandon being four minutes older—and Brandon says they grew up with their father’s misplaced anger and the long shadow of poverty. Their brother Earve, 43, better known as “Mr. E.,” is a life coach with Memphis Allies.

“Mom needed money,” Brandon said, recalling tough times in childhood. “When our father left, we were sleeping on egg crates for like a month.”  

The gang, then, was a means to an end. It is something they see now with young men—their deep-seated anger intersecting with delusions about what life is and is not.

Rational decision-making can become elusive and, without professional community violence intervention (CVI) efforts, eventually impossible.

“It’s almost like ‘Grand Theft Auto’,” said Brandon, who is CEO of TWINS. “They’re playing it out like it’s a game simulation, but it’s not.”

What is real: the pressure to meet immediate basic needs.

“If you talk to someone who’s robbing, they’ll feel like they’re justified,” Brandon said. “We know it’s wrong; they know they’ve got to eat and feed their family.”

A CVI chorus

In working to reduce gun violence “LTO,” or License to Operate, is considered an imperative. As former Memphis gang members, Brandon and Bryan have LTO.

But Bryan does not believe this means having to open every conversation with a recitation of his own gang involvement, including his having been shot. 

“The most important part of LTO is to be able go into a community and be relatable,” he said. “I don’t always have to bring up my past, because I’m there to help them with their present.”  

To that end, TWINS will provide life coaches and case managers in Hickory Hill. Another partner, I Shall Not Die But Live!, is handling the critical outreach work. The brothers also have access to Memphis Allies’ clinical specialists, who play a significant role as SWITCH program participants learn better decision-making processes.

Said Brandon: “One thing I teach with our team is life coaches may help identify the issues, but clinical helps them address it.” 

It is a multi-layered approach to the complicated problem that is gun violence, now officially branded as a crisis in America. Which means there cannot be too many people working on the problem and coming together in partnership.

“A lot of grassroots groups,” Bryan noted, “already have a voice in their communities.”  

This is why Deason says partnering with small local nonprofits like TWINS is vital to the mission.

“They’ve been on this CVI journey for a long time now,” she said. “And through this partnership, they are maintaining their voice and identity.

“They now have an opportunity to build capacity,” Deason added. “That’s great for them, but also great for us and great for the community.”

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