Benjamin Melendez with his family at the opening of Julian Voloj’s photo exhibition “If you live in New York…”, 2011
December 8 marks the anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting, the iconic gathering that not only inspired the movie “The Warriors” but also ended for a period of time a spiral of violence in the Bronx. When I met Benjy Melendez back in 2010, the events were widely forgotten.
Initially I was only planning to include Benjy’s portrait in a photography series on Jewish diversity. We became friends and he continued to tell me his story. I knew I wanted to tell it, and one thing let to another. Claudia and I started working on the graphic novel in early 2011. The year marked the 40th anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting, but no events were planned. So I approached Benjy with the idea to organize a reunion. Claudia and I had maybe 10 pages ready and were not sure where our journey would lead to. That December, dozens of former activists came together re-telling stories from back-in-the-day. It was the first time in decades that many of these people had seen each other.
Five years later, “Ghetto Brother” has not only been published with NBM, but also in France, Germany, and Spain (a Brazilian edition is planned for next spring), the Ghetto Brothers album “Fuerza” has been re-released and the documentary “Rubble Kings” brought the events to a wider audience. No doubt that the 40th anniversary reunion played a small part in bringing Benjy’s story to a wider audience.
Next week, we’ll mark the anniversary of the Hoe Avenue Peace Meeting with two special events, and you can be part of it. The first one is in the Manhattan’s Lower East Side: On Wednesday, December 9th, I will discuss “Ghetto Brother” with Tamid’s Jewish Book Club The following day, Benjy and I will be on the Upper West Side, speaking at Barnes and Noble at 82nd Street and Broadway at 7 PM.
If you are in New York, don’t miss this opportunity!