By Ines Madrid
Power Malu learned two major life lessons by watching his father live and die. The first lesson came through running when he was around six or seven years old. Power would accompany his father, Luis Angel Viera, on his training runs to the East River Track. The elder Viera -- who arrived to Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1960s from Puerto Rico -- was a boxer.
Power would jog along the track with his father doing drills, and then run back to the only neighborhood he has ever called home. The LES was among several neighborhoods throughout New York City where Puerto Ricans settled after leaving the island. Power, who considers himself a Nuyorican, grew up in a neighborhood where the language, music and food kept the connection to the island alive.
When his dad arrived, he lived on Allen and Eldridge Street. He then met his mom, Nereida Rodriguez Jimenez, who had also moved from Puerto Rico, and lived on Essex and Grand. After they were married, they settled in the Masaryk Towers to raise their three children.
“The impact and contribution of Puerto Ricans in New York and the United States goes as far back as when they enlisted to fight in World War II,” Power said. “My parents came here looking for work and opportunities as many did after them.”
The elder Viera supported his family by being a boxer during Power’s formative years. His father’s dedication to boxing, running, and overall fitness was a defining building block for Power, whose many titles include: director of special events and programming with Overthrow Boxing gym, captain of the urban running crew Bridgerunners, artist, activist, and unofficial LES historian.
“By watching my dad work on his craft, I really saw the benefit of being active, and following your calling, regardless of what others want you to be,” Power said. “He was my biggest supporter.”
That love for and dedication to fitness - mixed with his hosting skills perfected at SOBs in New York, performing with The Roots, and writing for MTV’s Lyricist Lounge - helped Power learn how to command a crowd, prompting his uncle to give him the first part of his nickname. Power added Malu after an NFL player he admired, Troy Polamalu, who also used his career to fight for causes and shared the same powerful hairstyle.
From an early age, Power had a natural desire to want to make everyone feel at ease, was always eager to mediate conflicts and to provide support when needed. But if you ask him, he gets the most joy away from the spotlight, such as when he is in the back of the pack helping new runners who have dared to run with Bridgerunners for the first time.
Their weekly Wednesday runs are about conquering bridges, jumping into traffic, and crisscrossing parks. All in good fun, often with a dose of history about the neighborhoods runners find themselves in.
In his official duty as ‘the sweeper,’ Power makes it his mission to get every runner to feel welcome, appreciated, and wanted. The most important aspect of running for Power is that it is a community effort that teaches everyone that their own power to help has no limits.
“Power is a natural leader and motivator. He is the person that will start a revolution,” said Cedric Hernandez, co-founder of Bridgerunners. “Power is that selfless guy you want on your team, he cares deeply for the community, and for him running is not about speed, it is about bringing people together.”
Power first became an organizer early in his life: When New York City found itself the flashpoint for many racial issues during the 1990s, he volunteered with Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, where Power learned how to mobilize people.