Power Malu (contributed)

The search for Power—lifelong Lower East Side resident Power Malu—started in hip-hop. Recognizable by his big hair, the Afro-Boricua New Yorker was a staple “Where’s Waldo” cameo in 1990s music videos like Digable Planets’ “9th Wonder” (Blackitolism) and De La Soul’s “Itzsoweezee.” 

These days, Malu is mostly sought by the city’s incoming migrants as a grassroots organizer known for connecting them to resources and championing family reunification. He spoke with the Amsterdam News at the Port Authority as he greeted newly arrived asylum seekers, his trademark hair often the first thing they see as they get off the bus.

Beyond cameos and advocacy, Malu has done seemingly everything, from hosting MTV shows to influencing run meets in Yugoslavia to operating the city’s first plant-based community fridge. His “CVS receipt” of a résumé is best broken down by the name of his organization: Artists Athletes Activists. 

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“From a young age, I was always a mediator—I got along with the entire neighborhood,” he said. “I would roam the streets and I would know people from different blocks. By default, sometimes people have issues with each other. We would be in a park or another location [with] both parties…they saw that whatever beef that they had, it would be squashed organically.”

Pounding the pavement soon opened more doors for Malu, who ended up handing out fliers in clubs. He found himself hosting shows and developing friendships with artists coming into New York City. His community-building skills led to a public access show where Malu interviewed high-profile artists and DJs. Malu soon found himself invited to music video sets, where his cameo became a “stamp of approval.” 

But he said he’s stepped away from the “ego system” in favor of the ecosystem. Malu’s advocacy now largely forms around what current issues are—the son of a boxer, he learned to pivot at a young age, so when southern border states started busing asylum seekers to New York City last year, he stepped up.

“The emergency is really when people are here and they’re not getting access to services or then there’s no outreach being done,” said Malu. “People are coming back here to the Port Authority for services, information, and help with their asylum cases, help with enrolling their kids in school, [and getting] culturally sensitive food. 

“We have moms [whose] babies are being born here in New York City. We’re helping them get to their appointments. We’re helping them get food.”

His work is only more pressing with the recent lifting of Title 42, a measure used by both the Trump and Biden administrations to restrict asylum seeker entry under the pretense of COVID-19 safety. A recent Mayor’s Office memo asked for potential emergency site ideas to address dire housing needs for the more than 36,500 migrants in the city’s care. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Malu.

“You have people here in New York City [who] are just sitting in hotel rooms, or sitting in their shelters because they can’t travel,” he said. “They want to work. They’re not legally allowed to work, so they’re getting exploited, a lot of them, when they actually do find work. We’re constantly advocating to keep families together. We’re advocating to be able to support these families. The majority of them are people [who] have already been in the system, but they’re not receiving the services. They’re not getting the services that they need.”

More about Malu’s work can be found at https://artists-athletes-activists.org/.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.

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