Acts of Resistance – The Story of Powermalu by Keron Alleyne

Acts of Resistance – The Story of Powermalu by Keron Alleyne
By Keron Alleyne / Photos by RCS Images

Artists, Athletes, and Activists. A reminder, a realization, or an embodiment of conscious effort to be the vessel that carries all three. We, as people, are constantly shifting one title off for another as we go through the phases and stages of our life. When one no longer fits we may take it off and wear the next title. As we peel back the layers, the saying goes two things can be true but for this feature three and much more can be true. You can be an artist, athlete, activist, and much more. These three A’s will be our guide for this feature and are interchangeable and always present throughout his story – this is not, as he would say, “UNBELIEVABLE”. Thank you once again for running with us. As we turn the pages of your life back to the beginning bear in mind that here at Mid Strike Magazine, we do all paces, all workouts to get to the story but we start like any novice would – with the basics.

Keron: Powermalu…Power! The short way to address you and garner your attention. Can you tell us about your name and its meaning?

Powermalu: The name Power was given to me by an elder when I was a teen. It comes from the Five-Percent Nation or The Nation of Gods and Earths which derives from the Nation of Islam. If you’re into Hip Hop music you would notice that some of the most prominent Emcees in the culture referred to themselves as Gods and/or Allah. In the supreme mathematics of the Five Percent Nation, you have numbers represented by values. I was given the name Power which comes from the number 5 which means Power or Refinement. The name was representative of my ability at an early age to navigate through different communities throughout NYC seamlessly and even at times becoming a mediator by default.

There were times when two people from different neighborhoods that had issues with each other would cross paths and because they both knew me the awkward tense moment would change to giving each other dap and squashing the beef. That’s Power! The name stuck with me ever since. As I navigated through the world of NYC club promotions to hosting shows I began putting “Babee” in front of “Power” because I felt I had to humble myself while dabbling in this new world. Ultimately people began calling me MC Babee Power or I’d be credited as Power when recording vocals and/or writing lyrics or consulting on albums and projects. I eventually changed my name to Power Malu which was inspired by humanitarian Pro Football Hall of Fame athlete Troy Polamalu formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I recorded a song and video titled “Head & Shoulders” to pay homage to Troy Polamalu because he inspired me with his actions on and off the gridiron.

Keron: The description is fitting. Can you introduce us to PowerMalu? (Your roots in PR, LES, running, etc.)

Powermalu: My name is Powermalu, I’m a Nuyorican born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I started running on the East River Park track at around age 9 when my dad would bring me to his endurance training sessions. Fast forward to 15 years later and I was holding training sessions at that very same track with some friends. Some of the participants that would show to the exercise sessions were part of another group lead by Mike Saes that would eventually be known as Bridgerunners. 

Keron: In almost every picture of you, I see “Overthrow”, which is the apparel and namesake of Overthrow NY Boxing Club. What is your connection to boxing? And how has Overthrow become the space that has (from the outside) blossomed into an extension of your activism?

Powermalu: My dad was a professional boxer so I was around boxing since birth. I remember being a child and my dad taking me to the Empire Sporting Club which was the boxing gym inside the Gramercy Gymnasium located on 116 E. 14th Street. Empire Sporting Club was founded by the late boxing trainer the legendary Cus D’amato (known for training Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson). Overthrow Boxing located at 9 Bleecker Street was an activist counter culture hub in the 1960s, 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s and it was the NYC headquarters to the Youth International Party aka Yippies. There’s a vast history of activism within the building so I’m basically an extension of what was already there but hidden within the lost pages of the counter-culture publication that was created in the building called the Yipster Times which eventually became Overthrow magazine, which inspired the look and feel of the Overthrow New York boxing club. Even before Overthrow became Overthrow the boxing gym, it was once our Bridgerunners headquarters where we met for our weekly Wednesday runs. It wasn’t until after BR moved to another location when I officially connected with Joey (founder of Overthrow) where he asked if I’d come on board to lead community projects and special events. I’ve organized numerous events inside the building where we used the ring as a stage for panel discussions from mental health and domestic abuse, to having cooking demos for kids and parents alike, to DJ battles to B-Boy and B-Girl battles, to live music performances with known artists to underground artists. February 7th of this year we launched our latest initiative under my Artists Athletes Activists umbrella which is NY’s first all-vegan & plant-based community fridge “Overthrow Community Fridge”

Keron: We all have our conduit or connecting force for the reasons why we move and eventually make running a part of our lifestyle. As a son of a boxer, movement and being physically active was something you saw up close. You could’ve done anything, knowing that and seeing that – why do you continue to run?

Powermalu: Running is my connection to my dad. My dad committed suicide when I was 18 years old and being that he introduced me to running and was my biggest cheerleader and supporter I yearned to feel his presence which I eventually found via running.

Keron: My deepest condolences to you and your family Power. It is understood that this loss had to be devastating and it is amazing to see you carry on an active legacy. Running has magic to it and with that same support, he gave you, you’ve ultimately found an outlet to return it to others. I see that you’re a run coach for Bridgerunners – which does just that! You’re probably one of the most decorated/chill runners I’ve covered (I’m not joking). You’ve run Boston and countless other races but take us back. Why did you go from just running to becoming a marathoner? (26. -who?)

Powermalu: I pride myself in being in the back of the pack and always emphasize the importance of “no one gets left behind.” For a while, I would visit various run crews and run with them in the back of the pack to make sure that they understand that leading from the back is necessary to ensure that people come back to your runs. Running can be quite intimidating with others because you automatically think it’s a competition and feel you may not be fast enough so why even bother showing up. People’s biggest worry is either they won’t be fast enough to keep up or they’re going to be so slow that people will laugh at them or be annoyed having them around. I’m an advocate for the newbies and therefore I make it my duty to support runners who are just starting out or returning from injuries. I give words of wisdom and encouragement as I coach you through your breathing patterns and before you know it you’ve made it through what you thought you couldn’t do. Eventually running becomes an addiction to that runner’s high but before you get to that point you need some coaching in the back of the back, and that’s where I come in. It makes me proud to see that all the various run crews that have been formed have been inspired to make sure they have someone taking care of the back of the pack at all times. I’ve run multiple marathons and several ultras just to show people that you can have fun while running 26.who and beyond. I’m all about getting rid of the gatekeepers and those that try to dissuade people from trying things. There are so many people that started out in the back of the pack and worked their way up to running and completing marathons.

Keron: Hip-hop seems to have had a hand in your gait, presence, and flow. The lyrics seem to be a part of your everyday resistance that you wear proudly. What role did the early roots of hip-hop play in your persona?

Powermalu: Hip Hop is my life. Although I grew up listening to a combination of Hip Hop, salsa, and freestyle music it was Hip Hop culture that had the most impact on my life. Being around the graffiti writers, the breakdancers, the DJs, the emcees, helped develop my improvisational skills which translated into lyric writing and creating flows. I studied many great emcees and happened to get to know some personally as well. All of this helped shaped my upbringing in the world of music as I started off as a club promoter and eventually worked my way up to hosting and performing live with bands that were playing at the venues. Some of the artists were doing their rounds at clubs in NYC to get their opportunity to shine. Artists such as The Roots, Digable Planets, KRS One, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, PE, etc. in one way or another had a hand in helping shape my style and inspired me to grow my fro. I had a public access television show called “My Life Television” where I would perform improvised comedy skits and interview music artists. Thanks to Hip Hop I made cameo appearances in an array of music videos and was a part of creating the first-ever lyrical sketch show entitled MTV’s Lyricist Lounge Show which aired for two seasons on MTV and featured artists such as Common, Erykah Badu, Cee-Lo, Mos Def, Slick Rick, and the list goes on.

Keron: Power, we could spend all day on your roots and those early days which run deep! I want to switch paces as if we were doing a tempo run. Puerto Rico! Independence. Independent. Why should the nation be just that? 

Powermalu: Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States since 1898. The US has imposed austerity measures on the island and in order to suppress the independence movement they made it illegal to own a Puerto Rican flag for nine years from 1948 to 1957 under the “Gag Law”. Independence is an inalienable right. Inalienable means that it’s unable to be taken away or given away by the possessor.   

United Nations resolution 1514 declares among many other things: Immediate steps shall be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, without any distinction as to race, creed or color, in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom.

“Access to healthy plant-based & vegan food is a natural right. Natural rights are rights granted to all people by nature or God that cannot be denied or restricted by any government or individual. At the bare minimum, everyone should have access to healthy food regardless of their socio-economic status”.

Powermalu

Keron: This is extremely enlightening. The legacy of independence takes the physical form through the people that carry that same enlightenment. The light and the legacy of Lolita Lebron, Arturo Schomburg, Pedro Albizu Campos, and countless others; why do their work and history reinforce your reasoning?  

Powermalu: These are our heroes. They were proud to be boricuas and advocated for Puerto Rican independence. Unfortunately, many of our countless heroes that fought for PR Independence were imprisoned and/or murdered by the US government. It’s imperative that people research the real history of Puerto Rico to learn about all the atrocities committed towards PR and the valiant fight for independence. It’s vital that we tap into the energy of our ancestors to liberate the island from its oppressor.

Keron: Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in late 2017. The diaspora, the community, and the Puerto Ricans across the globe banded together to provide aid. These lines (said by you via poetry) come to mind – as they intertwine the hip-hop and independence movement.

“They suck the land dry like sugar cane, wayyy before the hurri-cane.”

“We send our support and they hold supplies. Food stuck at the port why families die”

What do these lines mean to you?

Powermalu: They sucked the land dry like sugar cane is referring to the US colonial government sucking the island dry of all its goods and people. Due to the corrupt local government stealing money and all the austerity measures imposed by the fiscal control board aka Promesa board pre-hurricane Maria, the people were leaving the island in droves. There is an erroneous debt that the people are demanding be audited and cancelled but the US Federal court is siding with wall street bond holders in essence further crippling the PR economy. We learned that right after Hurricane Maria hit the island there were supplies being sent to Puerto Rico but never reaching the people. Instead of distributing the supplies we found out that government officials were confiscating and hoarding the supplies at the port and people were literally dying due to their negligence. We decided that we needed to go to the island ourselves to make sure everything we were sending out was released to us and we made sure we connected with locals on the island to help us distribute the aid to all the places FEMA and others big orgs said was too difficult to reach.

Keron: Before you and I ever formally met, I met you through your activism around Puerto Rico (surprise). I was with the December 12th Movement on United Nations Day in 2019 protesting the sanctions on Zimbabwe and you were with a crew of “comrades” as addressed by one of my elders Viola Plummer. How important is solidarity in achieving the goals of independence and sovereignty over the legacy of imperialism and neocolonialism that currently governs the island? 

Powermalu: That was an amazing show of solidarity with the contingency of Zimbabwe and our PR contingency which included comrades in the struggle for independence who were ex political prisoners and lifelong freedom fighters. That action was organized by a coalition of organizations under the banner of Frente Independentista Boricua. Uniting people from all over the world is key to liberating all oppressed people. Remember that divide and conquer is the oldest trick and their most powerful tactic they use to control the people. The Frente mission statement is worth reading to get an understanding of our stance as a coalition of orgs.

Powermalu at the Running to Protest rally against Asian hate.

This is a front made up of diverse organizations and individuals that fight for decolonization, independence, and justice.

UNITING POINTS OF FRENTE INDEPENDENTISTA BORICUA

1- We are united by respect, discipline and commitment to the independence of Puerto Rico.

2- As independentistas, we reject political subordination, repression, inequality and imperialism in all its forms.

3- We recognize and support all oppressed peoples and their fight against any form of oppression and violence.

4- We reject practices and oppressive behavior against our marginalized comrades and partners such as racism, homophobia, transphobia and the criminalization of the poor / working class.

5- We will fight any collaborator who exploits our homeland.

6- We demand the United States immediately begin a process of compensation, demilitarization and the release of all Political Prisoners. We aspire a free, prosperous and socially just country as soon as possible.

7- We denounce the Fiscal Board, which is a dictatorial entity at the service of the Wall Street vultures. The alleged debt they want to collect does not belong to the people. We reject the colonial debt and demand the prosecution of the guilty.

8- We recognize and respect the diversity of methods of struggle and lines of action that guide the participating organizations in this Independence Front.  Those methods does not imply a mandatory adherence of any other organizations methods they may subscribe to.

Keron: We’re going to change the pace again. Let’s be in the moment like when we do hill work. Each step forward is difficult but aids in progress. Here we are coming off of one of the most difficult years on record. Covid-19 affected every fabric of your intra-connected history (LES, PR & Hip-Hop). How did you stay motivated and continue to be a motivator for the folks in your circles while facing all this uncertainty?

Powermalu: The pandemic removed the distractions that were provided to us as forms of escape from ourselves. Sports, entertainment, hustling to make ends meet, etc… When the distractions are gone you are forced to look in your inner mirror to find out who you truly are. Not who they said you were or who you have to become in order to be “successful’ All the layers were being peeled away and the literal mask was being removed while another was being mandated to wear. Meditation helped me practice how to be present in the unknown. The goal is to embrace the uncertainty because that’s the zone where creativity thrives. The main thing I continuously practice while meditating is minimizing the voice in my head and amplifying the voice of the spirit. Your intuition, your gut, your spirit is your true guide and will never steer you wrong. Some sage and some time with yourself will help you shift the energy. Meditation is a practice to remove the labels and stories attached to those emotions that arise. Once you are able to peel away the layers you can experience the anxiety simply as energy without all the extra noise. What you may be feeling is only temporary but the opportunity that you are being presented with can help you evolve in this lifetime.

Keron: The pandemic really amplified and exposed the capitalist system that puts human greed over human need and devastated Black and brown communities. Activists and overall just good-hearted community members have joined forces to fill the gaps and provide for the people. This has taken hold as fresh food giveaways, clothing drives, providing toiletries and have been more sustainable through mutual-aid. Please tell us about what mutual aid means to you and some of the efforts happening on the LES and beyond.

Powermalu: Mutual aid means getting away from the ego system and getting into this ecosystem. Its showing people that we take care of us and the people united can never be defeated. Its sharing resources and information to help those that are struggling to understand that they are not alone and we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. It means everyone has a role to play in building community and every role is vital. It means solo el pueblo salva el pueblo only the people will save the people. All over NYC there have been grassroots organizations coming together to deliver food to the elderly and struggling families and individuals. The pandemic relief began with community organizers who knew we couldn’t wait for politicians to step up and take initiative. Unfortunately, many lives were lost to Covid due to the health disparities in BIPOC communities caused by mediocre eating habits. Many of those illnesses can be cured by teaching people how to cook and eat healthy nutritious plant-based meals. This is the main reason I began an initiative to go food shopping for families. It was a way that I could have a conversation with people to help lift their morale while delivering healthy meals.

Keron: I want to get more into food insecurity. Our city has a lot of it. Personally, most are either priced out of healthy food or live in inner-city food deserts where accessing fresh food is a task. The city offered food in a variety of ways and some pantries became lifelines for people. Unfortunately, we learned that all food given out isn’t good food. When you realized this, can you tell us how you went from outrage to action with the Overthrow community fridge?

Powermalu: One thing I noticed was that many organizations that are awarded government contracts to feed people don’t actually care about the people. They get paid to make deals with warehouses/distributors and basically hoard resources and provide horrible food options for our communities. The meals that were being offered looked like rotting meat all mixed in with canned veggies. The school food that was being provided to families was even more horrific. We’re talking billions of dollars being wasted along with tons of food being dumped in lobbies and in front of people’s doors. Many stated that they rather go hungry than eat the garbage that was being offered to them. This is when I decided to start the initiative for a completely plant-based & vegan community fridge. I knew there were 80 plus community fridges throughout the city but none were 100% plant-based & vegan. I knew this would be a challenge because it was something new and required connecting with other like-minded people that had a similar vision and passion for feeding our people fresh fruits, vegetables, and plant-based meals.

On February 7th, NY’s First All Plant-Based & Vegan community fridge was launched on a snowy Sunday afternoon. The community has been supportive of this initiative and people from all over the city and all walks of life are benefitting from having this fridge in front of Overthrow Boxing Club at 9 Bleecker Street. We are helping to remove the guilt and shame associated with being food insecure. 

Keron: Fresh food. Affordable food. Vegan food. It’s a human right, correct? How are these special descriptors supposed to be human rights? Explain to our readers. 

Powermalu: Access to healthy plant-based & vegan food is a natural right. Natural rights are rights granted to all people by nature or God that cannot be denied or restricted by any government or individual. At the bare minimum, everyone should have access to healthy food regardless of their socio-economic status. That old saying “beggars can’t be choosers” needs to be checked. Just because you are struggling doesn’t mean you should be fed scraps and be okay with that…It’s time we create a new system and allocate funding and resources towards making sure our BIPOC communities have options and aren’t forced to eat the garbage they are offered. This is the goal of the plant-based community fridge initiative. Get everyone involved in helping give access to healthy options to BIPOC communities. 

Keron: How does NYC’s first Vegan Community fridge stay stocked? Tell us about the network of activists, teammates, comrades that make it their business to keep the fridge fully stocked. 

Powermalu: NY’s first Plant-based & Vegan Community Fridge stays stocked by the blessings of the community stepping up to provide resources. From the people that rescue food from warehouses to the local restaurants and community kitchens that have stepped up to show their appreciation for the work we’re doing. We have local residents, and members of the running community that stop by to drop off goods and stay to help volunteer. We have grassroots organizers that share the love and whenever they have any extra fruits and vegetables from their pantry they bring them by and stock the fridge. The Artists Athletes Activists team has really stepped up in a major way to alleviate some of the work that was overwhelming me. It takes a lot to keep the fridge stocked. It empties really quickly and sometimes we have to stock the fridge four to five times a day. We get students that come by, the unhoused community, folks that live in the shelters, people that lost their jobs, many that are working delivery jobs or in kitchens but just arent making enough to help them buy fruits and vegetables because as you may know healthy food can be expensive. 

Keron: How can one support the efforts of this community fridge?

Powermalu: We have a venmo: @plantbasedcommunityfridge which helps us to purchase food when the food donations are slow. 

Keron: Excellent. Let’s come down the hill and ease into our cool down. The summer of 2020, led to running and activism becoming a vehicle of using running to protest. From Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, to George Floyd to PR to missing indigenous women, how has running become a more prominent tool of protest?

Powermalu: Running became a form of protest on a large stage the moment John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black-gloved fists in the air while their co-conspirator Peter Norman stood with them in solidarity during the award ceremony at the 1968 Olympics.  I’ve been tapping the NYC running community and running crews around the world to run in solidarity for various causes over the several years so this isn’t anything new for us. During the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the NYC Run Crews as well as crews from around the world ran in solidarity with Puerto Rico. I was on the island and we simultaneously broadcasted the run in PR with the run in NYC to show the participants in PR that the NYC running community was with them. Since then we’ve done tons of runs to bring awareness to issues that need amplification.

I had been on the streets protesting with young organizers at the end of May after the murder of George Floyd so it was only natural when Coffey contacted me to discuss “Running To Protest” we understood the importance of bringing the running community together especially at a time when people were hurting and looking for answers. We decided on becoming partners for “Running To Protest” and the rest is history. The inaugural run had about 1,000 runners that we brought together from the NYC running community and we continued doing the runs once a month with the most recent run being for Black and Asian solidarity and to protest anti-Asian violence/hate which brought out well over a thousand people. We use two main hashtags #RunningToProtest and #AllCrewsOneCrew.

Keron: Roberto Clemente, was a Puerto Rican Black man that believed in la gente and provided humanitarian aid for all over fame. Tragically he died in a plane crash at 38 years old. How has his legacy impacted you? How have you lived purposely to try and keep his spirit alive? 

Powermalu: Roberto Clemente was an icon and a Puerto Rican hero. The fact that he died in a plane crash on his way to help earthquake victims in the country of Nicaragua  speaks volumes to his character and his humanitarian spirit. One of his most famous quotes is “Anytime you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” I’m inspired by Roberto because he fought racism and discrimination throughout his life but yet he still found empathy and was purposely driven to help those less fortunate.

I’m an advocate for using your platform to help better the world. Having a set of skills or some unique talent does not make you better than the next person, it just gives you an opportunity to pay it forward and lead by example so the world can be a better place. Ironically what Clemente set out to do for Nicaragua we here in NYC had to do for Puerto Rico when we sent supplies over and the corrupt officials confiscated them. We took a page from Roberto Clemente and went over to Puerto Rico to make sure the supplies we sent to the people got to them. Any opportunity I get to make a connection to help someone or a group of people I go for it. I run bridges but I am also a human bridge looking to connect people and share resources for the betterment of our people.

Keron: In the spirit of connection we must stretch to make sure the human bridge is limber. Let’s get our final stretch in. The 3 A’s, artist, athlete, and activist. You wear all titles seamlessly. Is that, as you say – unbelievable? Power, please also explain to our readers why you punctuate your excitement in videos with “UNBELIEVABLE”!

Powermalu: Unbelievable! I am indeed all three which is why I named my organization Artists Athletes Activists. I’m a lyricist, actor, vocalist, I am a runner who dabbles in other sports on occasion and I’m an activist fighting for the liberation of our gente and supporter of the dismantling of the oppressive systems that keep our people stuck and fighting against each other. It’s time we unite and create new models so we can grow and evolve as a people. I feel that there are so many people like myself that are all three and don’t want to be categorized as just able to do one. There are many great Artists Athletes Activists such as Muhammad Ali who embraced all three and used his platform to advocate for those seldom heard. He was the ‘Greatest of All Time’ and probably one of the greatest examples of utilizing your notoriety to take a stand against systemic racism and white supremacy.

I say unbelievable in various ways so depending on how I say it you get an understanding of the meaning. When I’m running I’m usually feeding off of the energy of the people I’m running with and I’m showing my appreciation for them so I share an unbelievable with them. Sometimes I may go for a solo run on the Williamsburg Bridge which is my favorite bridge to run and I’ll make an IG story saying unbelievable because running got me outside feeling better than how I felt cooped up inside. So that unbelievable is a grateful and playful one. Basically, everything is UnBelievable. Especially things you’ve been taught for so long that may have run their course and its time to switch belief systems. Just be aware when you say unbelievable under your breath because that’s an emotion you don’t want to dwell on for too long because it’ll attract more of that same energy. Focus on keeping the unbelievable high tones and long on the Unnnnnnn Believable!!

Keron: Any last words for our readers?

Powermalu: Don’t allow this movement to get hijacked by those looking to continue the exploitation of our people. It’s time we support those that support us and call out those that exploit their own kind and front like they are for the people but are really all about themselves. I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that I came up with and have been sharing since last summer. I’ll be putting these on t-shirts along with “Unbelievable” and some of my other quotes so look out for that.  “Get away from that ego system and get with this ecosystem”, “Ecosystem over Ego system”, “We may be diverse but not divided”, “Diverse Not Divided”.

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