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Flyin’ Cut Sleeves

FLYIN’ CUT SLEEVES, completed in 1993, is a 59:44 minute videotape documentary which presents alternating portrayals, from the past (twenty years ago) and the present, of former street gang presidents in the Bronx:  Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez, The Ghetto Brothers, Ben Buxton, The Savage Nomads,  Nelly “China” Velez, The Savage Nomad Girls, Felipe “Blackie” Mercado, The Savage Skulls and Lorine Padilla.

The project grew out of the experiences of Rita Fecher, the videotape’s co-producer, who taught in a South Bronx school in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, became intimately involved with the gangs, their leaders, and the leaders’ families and began to document their lives.  Their world was the streets, set against a backdrop of uprooted families, cultural alienation, drugs and violence.  Neighborhood teenagers responded by organizing into street groups known to the members as  “families”, but labeled in the most alarming terms as violent gangs by the press.

When Rita Fecher returned after twenty years to see what had become of her old friends, she found that they had stayed in the community of their youth, that they were deeply committed to improving conditions there and that they were engaged in helping their own children survive in the hazardous street environment.  Each of them has fought to learn how to function more effectively in American society through continuing education within colleges and educational systems connected to the prison system, in New York City colleges and universities and on-the-job training. They have chosen careers, studies, or community activities in areas of youth and drug counseling, recreation and self-defense.

In fact, the “families” had a stabilizing effect, enabling the youths to cope with their troubled environment and providing their young leaders with a means of exercising authority.   The political climate at the time, movements of national liberation and such organizations as the Black Panthers and Young Lords Party influenced the young gang leaders to aspire to be more than warriors and to become, to some degree, a positive force in their communities.

It is their fervent hope that this documentary will help them to bring attention to the problems faced by them and to their own unique efforts to overcome them.  The documentation of these lives over a twenty year period offers a remarkable perspective on life in the ghetto (spanning four generations), and the means that people devise to cope from the time that they are children to when they serve as parents and role models for a new generation.

Henry Chalfant & Rita Fecher

  Director of Photography:
Carl J. Weston

  Original Music by
The Ghetto Brothers
David Chalfant

  Presidents – Principals:
Ben Buxton, Benjamin Melendez, Felipe Mercado, Lorine Padilla and Nelly Velez

  Guest Appearances:
Rita Fecher, Artist and Teacher
Gabriel Torres, Lieutenant, Ministry of Defense, the Young Lords Party
Jose Torres, first Latino Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World
Judge Bruce Wright, New York State Supreme Court

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