Victoria Best at Uncle Bobbies. (GIH | Dashiell Allen)

Sitting inside Uncle Bobbies coffee shop on Germantown Avenue, as the early afternoon sunlight pours through the window, Victoria Best smiles as she greets her friends and neighbors, hugging everyone from former colleagues to longtime acquaintances. There’s no question that she’s a well-known figure in the Germantown community. 

“I love the Germantown community, I love the history it holds, and I want to advocate for it,” Best says. 

She’s also very outgoing: “Even if I don’t know you, I want to know you, and so I’m gonna say hi,” she says, smiling.  

Growing up in the Philadelphia foster care system, Best moved around a lot but ultimately settled in Germantown in her late teens. “This has been like a come-back community for me,” she says; it’s the first place she could leave and return to what truly felt like a home.

Best wears many hats. She’s a mother, the founder and executive director of her nonprofit Victoria Urban Outreach Tutoring Service (VUOTS), works full time as a data manager for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and is a board member of the Society for Preserving Philadelphia African American Assets. In February, the Philadelphia City Council honored Best as Champion of the Week. 

Now, Best is participating in Women’s Way’s Change The Narrative Fellowship, a six-month opportunity for her and eight other women and gender-expansive folks with experiences of incarceration to change the narrative and stigma around the carceral system through storytelling. 

“I’m really excited about making sure people are aware that being involved in the criminal justice system doesn’t always have an excluded outcome,” Best, who is a person of reentry, says. “Being a part of that narrative allows me to expose some of the injustices that happen to women, especially women of color, around the criminal justice system. This gives me an opportunity to really share my whole experience.” 

Best recalls advocating for herself from a young age, even when others didn’t believe she would succeed. That’s what has motivated her passion for providing free educational resources and tutoring for underprivileged communities in Philadelphia. 

Starting when she was two years old, Best was under the supervision of the foster care system. Although she lived with her uncle until she was a pre-teen, he did not take Guardianship of her.

“I’ve lived all over the city of Philadelphia,” Best remembers. “I’ve had various foster parents that had children, and children’s children, and I was always referred to as ‘one of the kids we’ve got.’ I was never really brought into a family and made to feel like they were my family.” 

It’s important to her that children in the foster care system are never overlooked. 

“They are a forgotten population,” Best says. “Being a part of the system—it really just makes you feel more invisible than you are.” 

And she never gave up on herself. Two years after finishing high school at Strawberry Mansion High as a new mother to her first son, she enrolled in a Computer Information Systems program at the Community College of Philadelphia. There, she discovered that, while computer science wasn’t her calling, she had a deep-rooted passion for learning and sharing her knowledge with the world. 

With the encouragement of a professor, she applied to Temple University, where she studied to become a teacher and received her Bachelor’s and later a Master’s degree from Lincoln University. 

In 2015, she founded a for-profit private tutoring business, Victoria Tutoring Services, and a year later formed VUOTS after seeing that many families could not consistently afford to pay for sessions. 

“What I want to instill in others is to inspire them to be their best selves, through educating themselves, and whatever that leads to for them,” Best says. “I don’t want my feelings to be [those of] others. I just want to minimize opportunities for negative experiences and the lack of education that aids in those negative experiences.” 

Best explains what she hopes her story means for others: “I want to be an example for people that if you are sincere about wanting to be better and determined in your life, nothing’s going to stop you from doing that. You’ve got to keep pushing forward. But you only could do that if you become aware and conscious. How do you become aware and conscious? Through education. And it starts with just understanding the basic fundamentals–reading, writing, and arithmetic.” 

She’s inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984, about a dystopian society where the government controls how people think. She explains, “I don’t want to be part of the system that tries to dictate who people are supposed to be.”

Best sees tutoring and mentorship as mutually beneficial practices. “It takes patience to tutor, and it takes understanding,” she said. While “it takes a lot from the tutee to find themselves humble enough to expose their lack of knowledge to somebody else.” 

Currently, VUOTS runs one-on-one tutoring programs in partnership with Philadelphia nonprofits. She tutors herself, along with a team of volunteers, including her sons. 

Best’s message for all people is: “Believe in yourself. I met so many people that didn’t believe in me. And then they tell me that I have so much confidence. I just believed in myself that life is gonna be what it’s supposed to be.”

That’s the message she aims to instill in her children, whom she raised on the principles of “consciousness, awareness, and self-sufficiency.” 

When she isn’t busy working, volunteering, or parenting, Best enjoys silence. 

“I do so much talking, people don’t believe that I’m an introvert,” she says. More often than not, however, she’s working to make the world a better place. “I’ve run into a wealth of good people who, if I’m hungry, will feed me. And I want to give that back.” 

Midway through Best’s interview with the Germantown Info Hub, social practice artist and Leeway Foundation grantee Gigi McGraw embraces her after entering Uncle Bobbies. The two met when Best worked with Historic Germantown.  

“She is very dedicated to community and uplifting voices. Not only is she humanitarian, but also a good mom,” McGraw says of Best. “She’s getting her flowers now, and it’s great to be able to get your flowers. Whatever she puts her hands on, it really comes to fruition.”

Perhaps McGraw’s impression of Best stems from her self-described youthful, lighthearted energy. “I’m always making people laugh, that’s my intention,” Best says. “I think laughing is good for the soul. Smiling, laughing.”

Follow Best on social media to keep up with her work. To get involved with VUOTS, reach out through its website.