8 Million Stories, a series of short video portraits of New Yorkers. Enjoy!
Born in 1952 in Puerto Rico, Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez spent his younger years in downtown Manhattan before moving with his family to the South Bronx. Despite growing up in a strict household where Judaism was practiced in secret, Benjy joined his first gang at an early age.
As a natural born leader Benjy founded his own gang, the Ghetto Brothers. Ultimately Benjy became one of the most powerful gang leaders in the Bronx. And probably New York City.
In December 1971, Black Benjy, one of Yellow Benjy’s closest friends and a high-ranking Ghetto Brother, was killed while trying to broker a truce between rival gangs. Instead of retaliating the Ghetto Brothers decided to go in a different direction.
Benjy’s charisma and religious background were not the only things that set him apart. Growing up, Benjy’s musical love was surprisingly the Beatles, after which his first band, the Junior Beatles, was modelled. The group even went as far as buying Beatles wigs at a store on Fordham Road in the Bronx. As the Melendez brothers got more and more involved in street activities they would eventually end the Junior Beatles and turn it into the Ghetto Brothers band. They released one album and one 45, both on local Bronx label Salsa, a subsidiary of Mary Lou Records.
Benjy is currently campaigning to have the City of New York acknowledge the death of Black Benjy by renaming the Horseshoe Playground where he was killed after him.
For more on Benjy and the Ghetto Brothers go to: ghettobrothersnyc.com/