09/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr.

this is a eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr., murdered the day after his 19th birthday on his way for a slice of pizza with his barber in Pilsen. the young man who shot Jeff was seeking revenge in the wrong place. the white van he choose that afternoon was not full of his father's assassins, just two young men on their way for a slice,

a case of mistaken identity.

this is a eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr., who died in his parents arms the day after his 19th birthday, the morning after his father, Jeff Maldonado Sr., an internationally renowned artist who lives and works in Chicago, who mixes ancient and contemporary themes into beautifully lush paintings, took his only child for his birthday gift request, an old school fitted sox hat, Southside till he die...

this is a eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr., J-Def some friends would call him, a moniker for an aspiring emcee. i met him once after reading poems to a lunch room of students at Perspectives Charter School in the south south Loop. after i was finished, i asked if any one would like to read some of their own work. there was a small rumble at one table, friends of the humble and sweet J-Def, pushed him to the forefront. he reluctantly, stood, walked to the front of the lunch room, in front of me, asked for beat, , and proceeded to drop rhymes about his neighborhood, his love for hip-hop, his life... J-Def got a little know in his 19 years and young writers around the city hit me up on facebook to ask if i heard what had had happened...

this is a eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr., , J-Def, whose community came out this past sunday in the soup of 90 degree august and ended up on the steps of Dvorak Park, spilled onto Cullerton, a rally of people holding signs who looked like what Pilsen has become, Veterans and Abuelas, Artists and J-Def's homies, young Latinos who hip-hop and skate, a street biker gang of poets, a troupe of Aztec Dancers, punk anarchist white kids and punk anarchist Mexican kids, and across the street, old modest row homes, with old workers on the porch who used to work in the factories of old.

the rally was sad and raised questions with difficult and important answers life depends on:
why does this happen the priest wondered
how can we stop it the mothers cried
where is the alderman the activists shouted?

some thought gang bangers to blame
some said police, some said the system
some said kids in gangs are our kids too

this is a eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr.,
J-Def, whose identity has been mistaken before
in these same streets by police who think he's gang related
by gangs who think he's gang related
by train riders who think he's gang related
society who sees a young Latino from a working class community
with aerosol scarred fingers, is gang related

Stop Killing My Friends
the signs in Pilsen read.

the message is for kids in gangs who fire erroneously, yes
but the message is also for police who fire erroneously
for military recruiters who send J-Def's comrades to basic training
cuz they want some basic training
and the schools and closing community centers have failed them
or shut their doors to shut them, pushed them out into the war raging in the streets
or waged in the streets of some other country where some other people work
and are brown and killed cuz their identity has too been mistaken, too many times

this is a eulogy for Jeff Maldonado Jr.,
whose community was in the streets this past sunday
mourning a young artist sent away too soon
wondering when their identities will stop being taken and overtaken and mistaken,
in the streets in the barrio
and in the streets
in the hood
that is everywhere