Don’t Shoot, Stop the Madness to give school gear

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“It’s always good to start where you’re from,” Markeem Kendall said Monday from Fishtown’s Waterview Lounge.


The 33-year-old, formerly of Seventh Street and Snyder Avenue, has owned the 1,900-square-foot space since June and has headed the nonprofit Stop the Madness Foundation for eight years. The latter will help the entrepreneur to continue to confer his community care when he hosts his first Back to School Block Party Sept. 1 on the 1900 block of South Sixth Street. 


Kendall will use the day to strengthen his adult life’s commitment to reminding children that their neighborhoods should inspire them. His other foundation work has centered on basketball, with the creation of leagues and tournaments at Ford PAL Center, 609 Snyder Ave. Regardless of an event’s classification, he wants youngsters to thrive. 


“I want to be that guy who helps them to access opportunities they may not have known about,” he said.


A product of Southwark School, 1835 S. Ninth St., Francis Scott Key School, 2230 S. Eighth St., and Edward Bok Technical High School, 1901 S. Ninth St., Kendall calls Northeast Philadelphia home but regularly returns to where he spent his first 31 years. Along with nurturing his goal to help children, South Philadelphia yielded his career path. 


“I started in business and entertainment in 1998,” he said of his beginnings as a music manager. 


The often cutthroat music world failed to intimidate Kendall, increasing his life’s mantra that helping others is vital. His magnanimity led him to create his foundation, which serves as a form of therapy for the father of five who grew up without his own patriarch to offer support.


“This is the most critical time to help young people,” he said, citing the lack of father figures and the abundance of “kids having kids” as the chief deterrents to communal stability.


Last year Kendall formed Madness Studios, a multimedia company that focuses on graphic design, photography, videography and web development. He abstains from self-aggrandizement, instead choosing to see himself as someone who heard enough positive messages and maximized their intent.


He will see how far his instruction can resonate when 50 to 100 children arrive for supplies Sept. 1. The gathering will begin at 2 p.m. and will last for four hours.


“I know every kid, too,” he said of the depth of his enthusiasm for assisting each child’s future.


He will distribute stationery and gift cards for trips to barbershops and salons. Workshops will address resume composition, job interviews, proper attire for the interviews, as well as college and job applications. He has launched a clothing line, Madness Designs, and will have someone dressed as a mad scientist to deliver science tutorials to the attendees.


“I hope to do many events within the school year,” he said of wishes to address kindergartners through high schoolers. 


Next month, he will have an opportunity to help the latter, as he will embark on a 15-stop tour of high schools to address maturity and responsibility. As of Monday, he had not received his schedule but was hopeful South Philadelphia students would hear his words.


The former rapper knows how to spin tales and is eager to be able to give youngsters chances to wield their wits as Madness Studios interns.


“I would love to be the one who kickstarts their ambition,” Kendall said.


Two days after Kendall holds his event, Ella Best and the other members of Don’t Shoot will keep Grays Ferry’s youths from fretting over having gear for the new school year. Their organization’s second annual Back to School Drive will work to enliven a community that has been a steady victim of violence over the last two years. 


“Everyone has been so helpful with donations,” Best said Monday from her home on the 2700 block of Sears Street as she looked at impressive piles of stationery and book bags. 


She and husband Norman Best have lived at the location for 12 years, but last year proved so volatile, they felt compelled to be beacons for brighter times.


“We’ve known a few shooting victims,” Ella Best said as her grandsons Rashaun and Saheed Yeiser exited her abode to return to their homes.


The Bests often make trips with the boys to Marian Anderson Recreation Center, 744 S. 17th St., where the two play basketball. The site affords them safety, something their native section cannot always present.


“Children run to shootings,” their grandmother said of the perverse form of sightseeing the neighborhood often offers.


Tired of the common depiction of their area as a hotbed for tragedy, she and friend Pamela Thorpe last year started Don’t Shoot, whose name comes from a CeaseFire poster that reads “DON’T SHOOT. I want to grow up.” They held last year’s back to school celebration at Donald Finnegan Playground, 30th and Oakford streets as a culmination of a summer of weekly workshops on being safe and preserving their neighborhood’s hope.


“We decided to have this year’s event at my home,” Ella Best said of her space from which she also hosts the Saturday workshops.


“We were raised with a different mentality,” Thorpe, a resident of the 2600 block of Oakford Street and one of Don’t Shoot’s two executive directors said of the organization’s eagerness to dissuade children from ever relying on violence to make lasting statements.


While his wife serves as the chairwoman, Norman Best acts as a consultant and Don’t Shoot’s photographer. The causes of the community’s condition are not lost on him.


“The violence is attributable to a lack of family values and recreational activities,” he said. “You can also cite easy access to drugs and economic troubles.” 


Norman Best feels technology has become a hindrance to social training, as he feels it has given users excuses to remain distant from one another and has not helped them to learn to interact properly. Apathy could not escape his wrath either.


“There used to be more eyes in the community,” he said. “We are suffering from a lack of village raising.” 


Any child is welcome to visit his section of the village Sept. 3. The night before, Ella Best and others will stuff book bags with supplies. Those interested in donating can do so up to the 5 p.m. distribution. Any items received after the day will go toward next year’s supply.


Ella Best is looking to secure 501c3 status for Don’t Shoot so she, her husband, Thorpe and Tracy Carr, the other executive director and the Bests’ blockmate, may look for grants. 


“We envision having a larger identity,” Ella Best said of aspirations for holding a toy drive, visiting an abused women’s shelter and securing building space. 


“We are taking baby steps, but we are moving,” Thorpe said of making an impression on Grays Ferry.


Ella Best knows what will work best to save her community.


“It’s simple,” she said. “God and good people.”

To donate items to Don’t Shoot, call 215-410-1037.


Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.

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