At 23, Brian Melford is the youngest staff member to Bronx council member Andy King. His title is Special Assistant, an all-consuming job that includes taking pictures, working with schools, organizing youth related events, and generally “representing the bow tie”—a reference to King’s defining and often brightly colored fashion accessory.
But Melford, has an unusual wardrobe feature of his own: a yo-yo that he keeps holstered on his belt at all times.
A political aid he might be, but Brian Melford is also a serious yo-yo performer, and a regular competitor in East Coast and National competitions.
Every year, he attends the Northeast Regional Yo-Yo contest in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts State Yo-Yo Contest. He competed in the World Yo-Yo Contest in Orlando, Florida, before it moved to Prague last year. Yo-yo competitions have different categories, and Melford is best known for 1A single-hand, a classic yo-yo free-style genre.
He also schedules tours to demonstrate tricks and perform for an audience. In early February, he went to California for six days, stopping in Santa Monica and San Francisco, and making yo-yo videos to add to his robust social media presence. On his Instagram, amidst the yo-yo photos and demonstrations, he also posted a video of Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, whom he met during a visit to the Bronx in January.
But getting yo-yo time can be tough. Most competitions are far away, and leaving his post for the councilman requires plenty of advanced warning.
Melford met King when he was just 15 during a youth forum. They kept in touch, and he worked on two of the councilman’s campaigns before becoming a full time staff member after graduating from college. King supports his employee’s colorful hobby. “Some other young people find sports. Some other young people find things that are not too healthy to do. He’s found something that’s safe; it’s sane, and it’s innocent,” he said. “And it has a certain wow factor.”
Melford is known for his yo-yo in City Council circles. “All the time they’re asking me to do little performances,” he said.
“We tell him: you’ve got to walk a fine line because you still are working in government, so you’ve got to make sure you balance,” said King. “You can’t allow that to be in front of your bread and butter. But use it as a discipline to engage yourself.”
If there is a battle for his time, between government and the yo-yo, government is winning. Melford says he used to practice hours a day but now only yo-yos for 10 to 20 minutes. Regardless, Melford can talk about yo-yos for hours, from the intricacies of anodizing the metal to make it more durable and beautiful, to the virtues of different types of string. Last time he counted, he had 117 yo-yos in his collection, but that number has grown. Competition-level yo-yos retail for more than $100 each. His favorite has a luminous four-quadrant design of blue, green, orange, and pink. That yo-yo also marked the beginning of his sponsorship by Yoyo Community, which pays for food and hotels when he travels on yo-yo business.
Melford goes to New York YoYo Club meetups as often as he can, but is usually pulled away by work. He did manage to go to a February meeting across the street from Grand Central Station, where a group of six practiced in an indoor public space. Melford is one of the older members, and the younger boys hovered around him to watch and learn. A particular favorite is the Mel Hops, a trick that Melford invented in which he makes a triangle with the string, and bounces the yo-yo up and down on top of it.
Melford’s parents, both Jamaican immigrants, came to American 28 years ago. His mother, Joan Melford, says that she has always encouraged him, no matter what the endeavor. “He always has something that he wants to attack and get into,” she said. “I never know what it is.”
He recently purchased a violin.