Snipers took his life, but local businessman left legacy of uplifting people
By Kenny Waters, Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer – October 25, 2005
Inspired throughout his life to uplift people of African descent while empowering the economic state of Blacks, Kenneth Bridges was a unique individual to many. Sadly, leaving a business meeting in Washington, D.C., three years ago this month, Bridges was fatally shot and killed, becoming a victim of the Washington area snipers, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo.
A family-oriented man, Bridges viewed his six children and wife as being a blessing from God. He was also known as a man who balanced the love he had for his family with the passion he had for strengthening the Black community.
“He was a sincere brother with a genuine love for uplifting people of African descent,” said Bridges’ older son, Justin. “I was truly blessed to have him as a father, and he was one of the realist men I have ever met,” Justin Bridges said. “He loved and cared for his family and was all about providing for them.”
With his wife, Jocelyn, Bridges loved his children, from the oldest to the youngest: Aja, April, Justin, Joshua, Alana, and Alyssa. They collectively describe their father as being a loving and caring man, who thought family first, by all means, then his community. Only April and Justin were able to talk to the Tribune on the anniversary of their father’s death.
“The brother was a serious family man and serious community worker who was consumed to his environment,” Justin said. “There are most leaders that have egos; he was the complete opposite (and) could care less about the spotlight.”
At one point, Bridges privately published a book on what he thought was essential to life. “He wrote a book that he dedicated to us on what he thought would benefit us in becoming adults,” said his daughter April. “He wrote it because he said that he would not always be here and that we needed something that would keep us moving forward.” Passionate and committed to making his race consciously aware of the economy and what it could do to help the African-American community, Bridges traveled around the globe trying to increase the idea of investing in the Black society. “Ken’s passion was helping Black people,” said business partner and good friend Gregory Montgomery. “He preached for us to move to mental freedom, and – as he would say – for us to remove ourselves from the Willy-Chip – an inferior mental condition Black people had. He wanted Blacks to raise their conscious and understand who they are.”
“He was an extremely unique individual who had insight on people,” said close friend to the family Bob Lott. Lott was one the three people to speak with Bridges within 45 minutes of his death. “He should be mentioned with the likes of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a powerful speaker who was always up beat,” Lott said. “I had an opportunity to go with him on a few business trips, and the whole time he could be on the phone with someone in another time-zone, go to a meeting, then leave the meeting, and be back on the phone conducting more business,” Lott said.
“We could get back to the hotel from a long day of meetings and traveling around 11, and I would be beat, but he would be up 5 a.m. on the phone as a guest on some radio or talk show some where. He was always on the top of his game mentally, and always thinking of ways of uplifting people of African descent. He just had an unqualified love for Black people, and when talking about what he has done or did, I don’t know where to start.”
Bridges was an educated businessman with a graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He had a vision to establish a vehicle that would redirect the spending habits of African Americans. Justin Bridges said his father wanted his people to concentrate on spending money that would benefit the community. “He wanted people to think of ways they could use their money to create businesses and institutions,” he said. “He wanted Black people to become consciously aware of their spending habits.” It has been reported that Black America spends over $750 billion annually – the seventh richest economic engine in the world. Bridges’ background in business led him to a successful marketing executive position at the Scott Paper Co. in the early ’80s, but after a few years he felt compelled to start his own business. He believed he could not achieve “true freedom” working for corporate America, and he eventually resigned from Scott Paper to focus his attentions on his part-time business.
Many questioned his motive for leaving a life filled with the perks of being a top executive, but Bridges had a life-long commitment to his people and to himself. After leaving corporate America, he got involved in Amway, a multi-level national marketing system, where he was able to establish relationships with over 3,000 distributors across the country.
There he reached the highest rung of success – the Diamond Direct Distributor level. But he decided to leave the company after unsuccessful attempts to get Black-owned and produced products through Amway’s channel of distribution. He then decided to cancel operations, but made a pact to himself, that he would return to the world of distribution when the right time presented itself.
Approximately one year later, Bridges jumped back onto the scene with graduate school buddy Al Wellington to form People Organizing and Working for Economic Rebirth. P.O.W.E.R. was a direct sales business designed to create a channel of distributed goods and services manufactured and produced by people of African descent. Through this organization Bridges was able to build friendships and networking relationships with a lot of well-known African Americans. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan served as P.O.W.E.R.’s national spokesman and George Johnson, owner of Johnson Products Co., agreed to become its first product manufacturer.
The business looked like it was on the right path, but folded due to various circumstances. It was not until 1995, the year of the Million Man March, and some intuitive research that Bridges and business partner Wellington would finally reconstruct their vision of a Black channel of distribution company and form what is known today as the MATAH Network.
Established in 1997, MATAH – meaning, “ those people of African descent who give and buy Black” – was designed as a vehicle dedicated to the economic, spiritual and social upliftment of people of African Americans. “MATAH is genius work and not because it’s my fathers business, but because it links up manufacturing companies that are geared toward bringing money back into the Black community,” Justin said. “It’s not a capital-driven organization. It’s Black people using their money as power. It’s basically helping to build a Black nation. (That was) what my father always talked about. Making people aware of internal reparation.”
“We have to continue to keep his dream alive, and we’re reaching out to the community for support, especially from Philly,” said April, who now serves as the customer service representative for MATAH. “It’s been kind of difficult because he was the heart of the organization, and we know when you lose the heart of something it’s difficult, but where still here,” she said.
Justin Bridges is still hosting the talk show his father started with him. Initially, the elder Bridges gave his perspective on internal reparations from an adult view, while Justin voiced his opinions as a young adult. “MATAH Rebel Black Waves Internal Reparations” is aired on 900-AM on Saturdays evenings from 7-8:30 p.m. The family and close friends of the Bridges are diligently working to establish the Ken Bridges Foundation, and are acknowledging July 24, his birthday, as Ken Bridges Day.
“We are trying to find a way to put him in the history books,” Lott said. “We are working on a documentary of his life and his vision – people need to know what he did.”
Philadelphia Tribune article recreated with photos by Bob Lott.