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Villanova Nursing’s Dr. Bridgette Brawner Funded for “Guns Down, Gloves Up” Youth Boxing Program to Strategically Counteract and Prevent Gun Violence

City of Philadelphia’s $392,313 Community Expansion Grant Supports Sustainable, Community-based Solution                                    

Dr. Bridgette Brawner

To date, there have been more homicides in Philadelphia than there are days in the year, 524 to be exact. That is unacceptable to Professor Bridgette M. Brawner, PhD, MDiv, APRN of Villanova University Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, a psychiatric-mental health advanced practice nurse, researcher and educator, who has been funded by a recent City of Philadelphia Community Expansion Grant of $392,313 for an innovative “Guns Down, Gloves Up” youth boxing program at Epiphany Fellowship Church in North Philadelphia to address the local gun violence crisis.

The program launched in January 2021 in partnership with the city’s 22nd Police District. For this new grant, Dr. Brawner adds her mental health and mixed methods research expertise to ensure that the boxing coaches are equipped to handle the complex challenges Philadelphia’s youth are facing, and that the necessary data to determine the program’s impact are collected and analyzed. She will serve as the principal investigator and project lead for the program evaluation, with the larger goal of translating this community-driven program model into sustainable community- and system-level changes that advance anti-violence initiatives. While similar boxing programs exist, for instance, in Baltimore and Chicago, they do not include a mental health component as this Philadelphia program will.  

“Gun violence is crushing our city. It’s a blessing to bring our research skills to the great work being done through ‘Guns Down, Gloves Up.’ By evaluating what works, and why, we will be positioned to expand and replicate the program in other areas if it proves to be successful,” explains Dr. Brawner.

The program will engage youth aged 12 to 24, with an emphasis on 16- to 24-year-old boys and men. The goals are to provide a safe haven and mentorship for youth to mitigate delinquent behaviors, connect youth and their families to needed behavioral health services to counter the traumatizing effects of violence exposure, victimization and perpetration, and strategically utilize local resources such as recreation space, community partnerships, and anti-violence strategies to better streamline activities and achieve the greatest impact on gun violence prevention.

The grant is a cross-sectorial partnership between Villanova’s Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, Epiphany Fellowship Church, the 22nd Police District, Community Behavioral Health and Penn Nursing. Successful completion of the project is expected to result in: 1) improved regulation of anger and sadness, 2) decreased violent attitudes toward conflict and increased nonviolent attitudes toward conflict, 3) fewer incidents of gun violence victimization and perpetration, 4) fewer arrests, 5) increased behavioral health service utilization, and 6) increased social capital.

The impact of the program is expected to be extraordinary. Dr. Brawner explains, “With this being a community-led initiative, we are able to meet youth where they are, train boxing coaches to screen for behavioral health concerns and link youth to care and break the cycle by tackling the drivers of gun violence from multiple angles.”

Dr. Brawner, who in January becomes the College’s Richard and Marianne Kreider Endowed Professor in Nursing for Vulnerable Populations, is a seasoned, well-funded and innovative researcher who has focused on interventions to promote health equity and reduce health disparities. She believes that research can be used as an advocacy tool, and applies novel approaches, such as GIS mapping and community-level ethnography, to improve health for marginalized populations.