GHETTO BROTHER: WARRIOR TO PEACEMAKER
by Julian Voloj with art by Claudia Ahlering.
Introduction by Jeff Chang.
This graphic novel tells the true story of “Yellow Benjy” aka Benjy Melendez, son of Puerto Rican immigrants, who grew up to be the founder and leader of the GHETTO BROTHERS, one of the largest and most influential gangs in the South Bronx. From the seemingly bombed-out ravages of his neighborhood, wracked by drugs, poverty, and violence, he managed to extract an incredibly positive energy from this riot ridden era: his multiracial street family promoted peace rather than violence.
In 1971, the peacemaker of the Ghetto Brothers, was brutally murdered. Tired of the violence, instead of retaliating, Melendez and his gang ushered in a historic gang truce at the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting, in the Bronx. This truce sought to eradicate street warfare, forming an unprecedented inter-gang alliance.
“Catching the revolutionary spirit in the air, the Ghetto Brothers eradicated junkies and pushers from their neighborhood, cleaned parks and garbage-strewn empty lots, and participated in clothing drives and breakfast programs.” – Jeff Mao (Ego Trip)
In 1972, the Ghetto Brothers recorded one album: POWER FUERZA released on Maisonave’s Salsa label. A mint LP to this day fetches well into triple-digits on Ebay and the album is so hard-to-find that most group members do not even own their own copy. “A gang that brokered peace among other Bronx gangs, took up guitars and combined Beatles melodies, James Brown’s funk and Santana’s psychedelic fuzz into a record that sounds like nothing less than a party.” writes Carolina Gonzalez of NPR’s Latino USA. Melendez eventually “retired” from the gang life, focusing on reclaiming his Jewish roots.
Benjy Melendez’s dramatic and inspiring true story is featured in GHETTO BROTHER- WARRIOR TO PEACEMAKER, NBM’s newest graphic novel written by Julian Voloj, a New York based photojournalist, with visceral funky art by Claudia Ahlering. Melendez himself collaborated with the duo to make the book as authentic as possible.
“The gang truce back in the early seventies with Brother Benjy, with the Ghetto Brothers, Black Spades, the Savage Skulls, the Savage Nomads, Seven Immortals, the Reapers, Turbans, with all the major street organizations, was powerful. It was the time to put down the weapons against each other and try to organize… It was deep. It was powerful… We were all in the same game.” – Afrika Bambaataa: Godfather of Hip Hop, Universal Zulu Nation & Participant in the 1971 Truce Summit
“There’s no doubt that the Ghetto Brothers are an influence in NYC’s urban history. They paved the way for many who were searching for a sense of identity, a voice and social justice.” – Jorge “Fabel” Pabon: Legendary Hip Hop Dancer & Historian
“The story of the Ghetto Brothers is the story of the Bronx in the 1970s… The Ghetto Brothers are still considered legendary by those who know.” – Jeff Chang: “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation”