STORIES BY JONATHAN MELANCON

Final Project: Cummer Museum

Published: December 13, 2020

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Going Against the Paint

Published: Nov. 20, 2020

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Local Jacksonville artist, Dev Kai, illustrates his passion for rebelling against African American stereotypes in his art.

Photo of Dev Kai interview in Orange Park Mall. Photo by Jonathan Melancon.

Dev Kai’s artwork is a testimony to liking certain things other children did not find as fascinating.

“Liking certain things that other Black kids don’t like,” said Kai. “Liking anime, different artists and certain video games outside of ‘NBA Live’ and ‘Madden’ and stuff like that. I was always seen as weird, so I took that and applied it to my work.”

Instead of succumbing to ridicule, Kai used the criticism to develop his skills as an artist. 

The inspiration for his art stems from rebelling against the stereotype of what African American kids were supposed to enjoy, such as gangster rap and movies that have low-income housing settings, according to Kai.

Dev Kai painting. Photo courtesy of Dev Kai.
Digital art of music producer Pharrell Williams. Photo courtesy of Dev Kai.

Kai has sold hundreds of pieces to people all over Jacksonville by having his artwork featured in local fashion stores and galleries, but his biggest commission came in September 2020. 

Kai was commissioned to paint an entire wall in “The Laughing Wolf” children boutique. Curtis Brown Jr. is the store owner of the kids boutique located in the Orange Park Mall called “The Laughing Wolf.” 

It took Kai seven days to paint his wall, according to Brown. 

Brown said his store was new and in need of a makeover, so he called Kai, who he had previously commissioned to design a pair of shoes.

Photo of Curtis Brown Jr. showing off shoes designed by Dev Kai. Photo courtesy of Dev Kai.
Shoes designed by Dev Kai along with the gloves used to paint Curtis Brown Jr.’s mural. Photo by Jonathan Melancon.

“Well, it started off with would you do some shoes for me, and he did,” said Brown. “After that, I opened up a store and he was standing in here one day and I was like ‘Would you do me a favor?”

Finished mural painting from Dev Kai. Photo courtesy of Dev Kai.

 Kai believes he has been so successful because of the passion he has instilled in his artwork. Consumers who purchase his work can see his passion —which is why he believes he has become so successful. 

By defying stereotypes that seem to define a culture or ethnicity, he has found something more valuable – acceptance and admiration for being who he is.

 “People see the passion in what you do,” said Kai. “Automatically, they are probably gonna be like ‘I don’t care who this is, I’m gonna buy this because I haven’t seen someone really commit to doing it this way in a while, so I wanna invest in your work.”


For more information, click here for Dev Kai’s Instagram.

Local Organization Brings Awareness To Unsolved Cases

Published: Sept. 30, 2020

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Imagine losing a loved one and not getting any answers. How would you feel if law enforcement decided to move on to another case? Project: Cold Case gives cases of unsolved murders and disappearances a second chance of exposure to the public.

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Project: Cold Case is a Jacksonville-based nonprofit organization that highlights cases that have fallen from law enforcement priority lists. Ryan Backmann, the founder of Project Cold Case, developed a passion for highlighting cold cases after his father’s homicide, which remains unsolved over a decade later. 

 Photo of Ryan Backmann. Courtesy of Jonathan Melancon.

“In October 2009, my dad, Cliff Backmann, was shot and killed in a robbery here in Jacksonville and his case went cold,” Backmann said. “I decided to switch careers, became a victim advocate for families that have lost loved ones to homicide.”

According to Backmann, cases may go cold for many reasons, but once a case receives that status, the families begin to lose hope. Some law enforcement agencies have cold case divisions; however, lack of manpower, funding, and evidence are contributing factors to keeping cases from becoming a priority. 

“One of the biggest things you deal with is that families start to think that no one remember their loved one and no one cares,” Backmann said.

Project: Cold Case does not actively seek cases that have gone cold. Rather, families of the victims reach out to Backmann to highlight their loved ones’ cases. Family members will provide details of the victim including their personality, accomplishments, and details surrounding the victim’s homicide or disappearance. Backmann says he understands that families grieve in their own way so it may be difficult for families to talk about their loved ones. 

“It is helpful that I have been through something similar, so we have that bond automatically,” Backmann said. “As long as someone cares, then families are more than willing to open up and share their stories. They truly appreciate the help.”

Project: Cold Case has helped with a number of cold case arrests by keeping the public aware. Particularly with old cases, the technological advances of DNA testing became essential. In many cases, all the investigator needs is that one witness to come forward. 

Recently, Project: Cold Case featured a robbery-homicide from 1974 that has been solved more than 40 years later. 

Screen shot from projectcoldcase.org

“Our job is not to go out and try to solve these cases,” Backmann stated. “Our jobs are to bring awareness to the public and make sure these people are not lost or forgotten. We always keep up with the families because we want them to know we care.”

Project: Cold Case has become a bridge for families to connect to one another. What started as a man’s vision to advocate for unsolved cases has become a beacon of hope for families to preserve the memory of their loved ones. Backmann has turned his grief from losing his father into a symbol of light from a dark situation. As a result, some families have been able to get the justice they have long fought for.