‘RIP T-shirts’ offer wearable obituaries
BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporter August 16, 2013 8:34PM
Philip Danzy shows one of the shirts he creates at his T-shirt store, It's Major Inc. | Mitch Dudek~Sun-Times
Updated: September 19, 2013 9:36AM
The only obituary some who die from gunfire in Chicago will ever know is written on a T-shirt with an airbrush at Philip Danzy’s South Shore shop.
“See you at the crossroads” and “Ballin’ in Paradise” are common epitaphs inscribed on cotton-polyester blends at It’s Major Inc, Danzy’s shop on custom T-shirt shop at 1737 E. 71st St.
“The saddest part is that a lot of people that come in to have a shirt made ... they end up on one themselves,” said Danzy, who employs three airbrush artists, but presses lettering and photos himself.
“I try not to look at the pictures ... if you focus on the picture you get emotional, especially if you know the person,” he said.
Simply not looking wasn’t an option when Danzy’s 19-year-old son, Jaelin Lusk-Slaughter, was shot and killed three months ago while driving a car near 78th and Damen.
“There’s no words for that,” said Danzy. “He’d just graduated from South Shore High School and was headed to the Navy. ... He was hanging out with people from the wrong crowd.”
An airbrushed image of his smiling son surrounded by clouds hangs in his store. An inscription beneath the portrait reads: “We will never forget a real angel.”
Danzy says the shirts can serve as a cautionary tale.
“For some people who wear the shirts, it’s a wake-up call to the reality of the streets, and people have changed their lives because of that. I’ve had people decide to go college or move out of town because of the shirts.”
Danzy’s inventory reflects a diverse range of customers. On one wall of his store, a SpongeBob Square Pants design hangs adjacent to an airbrushed portrait of a gangster rapper with a blunt in one hand and a gun tucked in his waistband.
“It’s what the young people want,” said Alexandria Morris, who works for Danzy.
“RIP T-shirts,” are a steady source of business for Danzy, though not all mark violent ends. Most commemorate natural deaths.
“People do it because that’s the only thing they can afford to do for the family, they can’t help with the funeral, they can’t help with the kids, so that’s pretty much the cheapest way they can,” said Danzy, who obliges most T-shirt requests, no matter how odd.
“I just don’t understand when someone asks for a picture of someone in a casket to be put on a shirt, or a picture of someone holding a gun. That’s probably the reason why he’s in the casket in the first place.
And you can’t make no mistakes when they’re emotional like that, because they look for anybody to take it out on.”
The backstory for each face that ends up on a T-shirt isn’t always clear.
“We don’t really ask how the person died when the order is placed,” said Charlsita Burton, Danzy’s sister, who also works at the shop. “Sometimes we see their faces on the news and that’s how we know they were killed.”
Tyrone Pitts, an airbrush artist will cater to customers’ wishes, but he has preferences, too.
“I hope the next shirt I do isn’t an RIP. I hope it’s an MLK.”