South Philly anti-violence hero passes away from cancer at age 58

The community intends to continue the legacy of Grays Ferry resident Ella Pridgen-Best.

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Grays Ferry activist Ella Best recently lost her battle to colon cancer at the age of 58. (South Philly Review stock photo)

When a young man was shot and killed in Grays Ferry more than a decade, local resident Ella Pridgen-Best was crestfallen by growing violence in her community.

Feeling helpless but hopeful, the mother and law firm intake clerk decided to take matters into her own hands, as she transformed the tragedy into an impetus for a major anti-violence movement in South Philadelphia.

On April 4, the beloved activist, Samaritan and founder of the local anti-violence organization “Don’t Shoot…I Want a Future” lost her five-month battle to colon cancer at the age of 58.

The recent passing has dispirited South Philly, including politicians, community leaders and, above all, the countless youth she has touched over the years.

“I appreciate what Ms. Ella did for me, because she really changed my life and helped me out with getting jobs and different community stuff,” said 20-year-old Grays Ferry resident Yasir Munson-Bashir. “…I’m just lucky I didn’t fall off on the wrong path, because Ms. Ella grabbed me, and she’d seen that I was willing to learn and work hard and better myself. So, I appreciate her for doing that.”

Munson-Bashir, who says Pridgen-Best helped him get a job at the Philadelphia Parking Authority, is just one of many formerly troubled children who was positively influenced by the altruistic leader.

Through “Don’t Shoot,” which she founded alongside her husband and Point Breeze native Norman Best, Pridgen-Best cultivated a slew of mentorships, charities and anti-violence rallies around South Philly.

Striving to “create positive experiences for the youth before they reach adolescence,” the organization led book bag giveaways, community marches, summer kickball tournaments, holiday toy drives, spring candy hunts and community feedings, to name a few.

“I think about her character and her presence,” said Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, a local nonprofit organization striving to bring both resources and peace to neighborhoods. “She was passionate. How do you know someone is passionate? When tears roll down their eyes when they’re in the midst of working, and she cared. When I first started, I couldn’t find people who were committed to doing this every day until I met (Norman Best) and Ms. Ella…I think about it – I can’t find nobody like that.”

Husband Norman Best and Unity in the Community founder Anton Moore reflect on the life and legacy of Ella Best. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

Pridgen-Best, who was given community awards by local politicians and was also named a South Philly Review difference maker in 2012, made local headlines as a KYW GameChanger a few years ago after she and a few neighbors aided a police officer after he was struck in a hit-and-run accident in Grays Ferry.

Moore says she cleaned blood and tended to the wounds of the officer as they waited for paramedics to arrive.

Norman Best, who met his wife through a mutual friend more than 35 years ago, says even long before the official start to her community activism, Pridgen-Best, a

graduate of South Philly High School and Harcum College, always had a selfless heart.

“What was impressive about her that made me fall in love with her was that she was family-oriented,” he said.  

Grays Ferry activist Ella Best awarded the Spiritual Leadership Award by UniversalSoul Circus.
(Photo special to SPR)

As they were first dating, Norman Best recalls an evening when his new girlfriend chose to stay home rather than go out on the town, because she didn’t want to leave her children in anyone else’s arms.

“That attracted me. That she was caring like that,” he said. “She loved her kids. She cared about them. She was family-oriented. This is what I was lacking in my life, and I wanted to be part of that again.”

Even outside of “Don’t Shoot” programming, Pridgen-Best was mentoring local children on her own time, including assisting with job searches, helping with college admissions or simply having them over for a meal at her home on the 2700 block of Sears Street, as Moore describes her as the “Community Mom.”

In light of her passing, Pridgen-Best was honored posthumously by Unity in the Community last Thursday during the organization’s “#BecauseofHer” women’s celebration ceremony at Universal Audenried Charter High School. The 17th Police District also gave Pridgen-Best a fallen hero award.

The 2700 block of Sears was also officially renamed Ella Best Way by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. (Photo special to SPR)

On Friday, a life celebration was held on Friday, April 12, at the Abundant Life and Empowerment Center where a citation from Mayor Jim Kenney was presented.

Also, last week, the 2700 block of Sears was also officially renamed Ella Best Way by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

“We lost someone big,” Moore said. “We don’t find too many Ella Bests in South Philadelphia.”

She is survived by her husband, mother, two daughters, two step-children, seven grandchildren, a brother, five sisters, and nieces and nephews, according to her Philadelphia Inquirer obituary.

Looking ahead, Pridgen-Best’s family and community strive to carry on her legacy, as Norman Best says he intends to expand and emerge the activism of “Don’t Shoot” to other parts of the city.

“Ms. Ella’s biggest impact on me was just to stay focused and never give up…I try to help other people,” Munson-Bashir said. “What she did for me, I try to do that with people…She did it for me, so I’m going to do it for other people. I’m going to keep the chain going.”

gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano