PHILADELPHIA -- Before his death at the hands of a mystery sniper, Kenneth H. Bridges traveled the world promoting a message of a better life.
He was dedicated to the idea of African-Americans empowering themselves by spending more of their income in their own communities.
"He believed that if we could change the way we shop and spend, the crime would go away, the guns and the drugs," a colleague, Gaston Armour, said Saturday.
On Friday, Bridges' life full of purpose crossed paths with someone's life of senseless violence. While on his way home to East Germantown from business in Virginia, Bridges, 53, was fatally shot as he fueled his car in Spotsylvania County. He became the 10th victim of the sniper -- the eighth killed.
At his home on East Haines Street and elsewhere in the region and the nation, Bridges was mourned.
As co-founder of the MATAH Network, a nationwide organization that seeks to empower African-Americans by encouraging them to buy from black-owned businesses, Bridges had become an influential black leader, said Asa Hilliard, professor of education policy at Georgia State University and a MATAH member.
"He shared a vision of independence and self-determination and led in creating a structure to mobilize Africans in a variety of ways," Hilliard said.
When Bridges drove down to the Washington area for meetings midweek, his wife and his partner told him not to make stops in Washington suburbs.
Al Wellington of Cherry Hill, N.J., co-founder of the MATAH Network, told Bridges after a meeting in Virginia to go straight home on his way back to Philadelphia.
Wellington warned Bridges "not to stop," said James E. Clingman, a syndicated columnist and author from Cincinnati. "He and Al said their goodbye, did their usual hug, and that was the last time he saw him," said Clingman, whose book, Blackonomics, Bridges helped publish.
Bridges was born in Detroit and was captain of the 1967 Central High School football team there. He attended the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, receiving an MBA in 1972.
Bridges went on to be an executive at the Scott Paper Co. and was marketing manager for comedian Dick Gregory's successful Bahamian Diet.
He also served as president of the All America Entertainment Group, a video production company, which produced a documentary about black activist and Pennsylvania state Rep. David P. Richardson Jr.
In 1997, Bridges formed MATAH, based in Oaklyn, near Camden, N.J., which earns commissions from independent merchants who participate in MATAH's network of African-American businesses.
As a family man, neighbor and friend, Bridges was hailed as kind, caring and dedicated.
At the Bridges' home, Jocelyn Bridges and the couple's four daughters and two sons, ages 12 to 24, grieved privately. A steady stream of relatives and friends came to pay condolences.
Kevin Jones, who lives in Montgomery County, Pa., said he had known Bridges "over 20 years." Jones, 47, said: "He taught me a lot ... just showing how to be a man. He was like my brother."
Argie Allen, a marriage and family therapist who lives across the street, said: "I moved here two years ago, and the couple was one of the first to introduce themselves to me."
The Bridges were the closest of families -- and husband and wife were always together, Allen said.
On Friday morning, Bridges had called his wife from a Virginia service station to say he was on his way home to Philadelphia.
As she had done many times last week, she was going to beg her husband to please be careful. But this time, she didn't. Five minutes after they spoke, Bridges was fatally shot.
"God must have called him because he needed a good salesman," neighbor Laverne Wiggins said. "Because in reality, it may be some jerk down in Washington, but God makes the decisions and that's how Jocelyn is taking it -- as part of a bigger plan."
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