Chicago – The parents of Jeff Maldonado, a painter and musician killed at age 19 by a gangbanger, is trying to keep his memory and his message of peace alive with a documentary of his life and an art program for Latino children in Chicago.
"It's ironic that he had a violent death, because he always stayed away from street gangs, and as a hip hop artist his message was one of peace," Elizabeth Maldonado told Efe in an interview.
Jeff, or "Jeff-D," as his friends called him, died July 24, 2009, the day after taking a bullet in the chest.
Though he never belonged to a gang, the son of two Mexican-Americans who raised him in Chicago's mainly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood was killed by a gangbanger in a case of mistaken identity, police said.
Jeff had friends who were gang members but he wasn't, his parents said, adding that he had developed a program training teens in digital photography while studying his second year at a community college, from where he planned to transfer to Columbia College in Chicago to study music.
In his songs, Jeff often referred to the deaths caused by the gangs of his generation.
"I heard it in the 'hood, it was another assault. We have to work hard to improve this world. Let's quit killing each other, let's get united," he wrote.
"Listenig to his music and lyrics now I see they were almost prophetic," Elizabeth said.
Pilsen, the neighborhood she chose for bringing up her only child, is known for its cultural life with art galleries and street murals that portray the great struggles of the Latino community in the city.
But prowling its streets are also violent gangs from whom the Maldonado family hopes to separate the young people involved in the Jeff-D Project.
"It's very hard for us, but we do it to preserve his memory and because we believe that by keeping kids occupied with art we can help save the most vulnerable," she said.
"Jeff was a very special person and was loved in the neighborhood," his mother said.
The project, currently in its beginning phase, began with the documentary "Nineteen and a Day: The Life and Times of Jeff Abbey Maldonado Jr.," produced with the collaboration of the community.
The documentary, besides telling the tragic loss of a family dedicated to its only child, presents him as an artist of hip-hop and graffiti bent on using his talent and creativity to achieve positive change in the neighborhood.
Jeff's dad was once a gangbanger himself, but quit that life when his son was born.
He is now a painter, engraver and muralist with a studio in Pilsen where he works with young people four days a week.
There they learn the different painting techniques and have worked as a team on projects like the "mural of peace" created as a tribute to Jeff at an area high school.
"We don't want our son to be just another statistic, just another kid they murdered in the street," Elizabeth said.