Written by Julian Voloj
Art by Claudia Ahlering
I am quite familiar with the story of Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez and the Ghetto Brothers. IT was Jeff Chang's “Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation,” hat bought this story back from obscurity. It was also told by Melendez himself in “Ghetto Brothers: How I Found Peace in the South Bronx Street Gang Wars.” Netflix also released a wonderful documentary which goes on to chronicle the gangs of New York in the Seventies called “Rubble Kings.” When I learned that Melendez' story was going to be put in a graphic novel form, I was excited.
Julian Voloj puts the entire story together well. Voloj covers much ground in the short space provided by graphic novel genre. While there is but so much one can put into the graphic novel, Voloj leaves very little out. Claudia Ahlering's pencils are amazing. Ahlering captures the grittiness of NYC during that time. The black and white format captures the burnt out buildings and the poverty vividly. Ahlering gets the facial expressions right and pours emotion in the action sequences.
Finally, Voloj and Aherling provide a wonderful appendix that provides more resources and sheds more light on the overal story of the gangs in NYC. This is very crucial. I used this book with my students and plan to implement it as a tool for mediation. My students are captivated by this story despite the fact that reading is not something they enjoy. It was a wonderful way to get them read something and introduce them to a bit of history that might appeal to them. The story of the Ghetto Brothers is an inspiring one and demonstrates how people actually utilized tools discussed by notables such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Mahatma Ghandi into becoming agents of change.
Being from the Bronx makes me biased when it comes to this story. Yet it is a story of triumph. It is one of young people putting their heads together and claiming their own destiny. This story is also one where people are claiming their right to have their story told. It is also our duty to make sure those stories are heard. When I return to the classroom in August, this one shall be on my shelf and will be inserted into my lesson plans.