Latin Rock/Funk from the Bronx, N.Y. on the Salsa label.
The Ghetto Brothers: Benjamin Melendez
The Ghetto Brothers were one of the most important Bronx gangs of the late 60s and early 70s. While they were not as large as the Black Spades and the Savage Skulls, they held as much influence on the streets of the Bronx and beyond. During the mid-70s, Ghetto Brothers chapters spread as far as Connecticut. In fact, Eddie Perez, the current mayor of Hartford was a former Ghetto Brother.
Benjamin Melendez began the GBs in the South Bronx around 1967 with his brothers and some neighborhood friends. Known on the streets as "Yellow Benjy", Melendez would also become a key organizer of the pivotal 1971 Bronx truce that transformed the culture of the borough, and made the rise of hip-hop possible. Here are excerpts of interviews with Benjamin done in 2002.
Q: When did you move to the Bronx?
1963. it was right during the time when they killed President Kennedy that we moved to the Bronx. When the Ghetto Brothers started it was originally a family thing. My three brothers, plus (two other friends).
We used to call it Ghetto Brothers City. There was a gang called The Renegades and they were helping to build up a lot of places in Harlem. They came out of the Ghetto Brothers. Then the Roman Kings came out of the Ghetto Brothers. Savage Skulls came out of the Ghetto Brothers. Savage Nomads came out of the Ghetto Brothers. The Taino Brothers came out of the Ghetto Brothers. The Boricua Brothers came out of the Ghetto Brothers. That's how many people came out of the GBs.
The minute the gangs started to spread in the South Bronx everybody was in the news. All the gangs were in the news. From 1970 on, the gang situation started to get ugly. Murders here, killings here. We used to go to Crotona Pool. And you have the 8 ft. section so we would go there periodically to see who was the victim. A gang would kill somebody and throw them in the pool. Everybody would be like, 'Ooooooh! I wonder who's that?' So if you go to Crotona right now it's not there anymore. They emptied out the water. The eight feet section is gone, and that's the reason why. So when I started hearing this, I started to say, 'You know what guys? I think we should start changing our platform.'
Bring the organizations together. Bring all the presidents, vice presidents, warlords, Let's stop this bloodshed. Let's stop this fighting. Let's stop this stupidity about turfs and work together to bring unity of brothers and sisters to help build our community. Drop the colors, put berets on. The cops were stunned.
Q: Why the berets?
A: Because the inspiration came when we saw Che Guevara. We saw Che, Castro, oh that's cool. So we started this organization called the Ghetto Brothers Organization.
When I was going out there, I was telling Marvin and the guys, 'Listen brothers stop blaming the white man. See all that graffiti? They didn't do that. We did that man. See the broken window? They didn't do that. We did that. See the garbage over here? They didn't do that. We did that. You don't have to live in the white man's community to live decent and respectful. We've got to start that here man. When you go to your house are you gonna dirty your ground? No, you sweep it up and you clean it. Why can't we do this to the whole community? They can do it. We don't have to live over there to live a decent life.' That's why you hear Marvin "Hollywood" saying that (in the movies on the gang peace meetings, "Ain't Gonna Eat My Mind" and "Flyin Cut Sleeves"). So these were the things that I was teaching all the gang members. We've got to get together, leave drugs out.
When we were out, the pimps were not around. We didn't allow them in here. The prostitutes were not around. The drug pushers were not allowed to to sell drugs around the block. So it was one of those things where we had our community really safe. People had a good time because the Ghetto Brothers were not a threat to nobody. We were more an asset to the community. And people loved us and thatÕs why they supported the group.
Q: Talk about the Ghetto Brothers band. You played a lot after the gang truce.
A: We were influenced by the Beatles. We started by doing Grand Funk Railroad. Victor played bass. Robert picked up lead. We needed to get people dancing so we added congas, and Victor did it in such a way people were dancing more in a Latin way than a rock and roll way.
On the weekend, people expected the Ghetto Brothers to play. They came from all around. We got our power for the guitars from the street lights. You could bring in your colors. Black Spades, the Pearls, the Roman Kings. Just come and hang out. No fights! Everyone had a great time.