Richard 'Crazy Legs' Colón Returns To Puerto Rico With A Clean Drinking Water Mission

Oct 1, 2017
Originally published on October 1, 2017 12:39 pm

More than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, most of the island remains without electricity, food and drinkable water. On Sunday, President Trump criticized the U.S. territory's pleas for help and tweeted that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them."

But before that, one famous New York break dancer took it upon himself to do something for his people on the island.

Richard Colón, better known by his stage name Crazy Legs, is hip-hop's most famous b-boy. Back in the 1980s, he and his Nuyorican friends in the South Bronx started the Rock Steady Crew. They went from battling in the streets to performing on dance floors all over the world, and break dancing on TV and movies; that was Crazy Legs as Jennifer Beals' body double, spinning on his back at the end of Flashdance. The Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture features a pair of Rock Steady Crew sneakers and a photo of legendary Crazy Legs dancing in the streets.

On Friday, Colón arrived at his cement house, sand-blasted but relatively unscathed, in Isabela, a northwestern Puerto Rico town — where he lives when he's not in New York or traveling the world as a hip-hop ambassador for Red Bull.

He says he's much more worried about people in areas even more cut off from help, where there is no clean drinking water.

"That affects me. Because then it's like you're sitting here, watching everything that your DNA's about go through a struggle," he says.

Colón and his hip-hop buddies started Rock Steady For Life, a campaign to help Puerto Ricans affected by the hurricane.

On Friday, he came back to his second home with loads of supplies, and to work with Waves For Water, a nonprofit group that provides portable clean water filters to people around the world. On his porch, Colón and his neighbors watch a demonstration.

Waves For Water leader Rob McQueen shows them how to create water filtration systems out of very simple materials: a plastic bucket, a rubber hose and a small plastic filter that purifies the water from biological contamination.

"I've done this in 17 countries myself," McQueen says. "I always drink first. I never get sick."

On Monday, Colón and the team will deliver 300 of these water filtration systems and buckets to the more isolated areas in the northwest part of the island. The idea is to train local leaders to show others how to use them. Colón's friend Boris Culbero says people in remote areas have been drinking water from contaminated creeks.

"Those water purifiers are really going to help," says Culbero, "they really hit the spot."

Colón agrees. "We need to empower ourselves," he says. "We need to self-sustain."

But Colón says he's disgusted by President Trump's response to the Puerto Rican disaster.

"Trump's lack of care or empathy or sympathy is just one of those things where, why are you even planning to come to PR?" Colón says. "Me, just a b-boy from Bronx, how the hell is it that I'm able to get here before the president of the United States?"

Colón says his relief effort is not a one-off. He and Waves For Water will continue checking up on those water filter systems. As the music Crazy Legs used to dance would say: on and on till the break of dawn.

NPR's Lauren Migaki contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And we return to Puerto Rico. It's been more than a week since Hurricane Maria. Most of the island remains without electricity, food and drinkable water. One famous New York breakdancer, though, is taking it upon himself to do something for his people on the island, as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH SONG, "IT'S JUST BEGUN")

JIMMY CASTOR: Come on. Get up now.

MANDLIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Richard Colon, Crazy Legs, is hip-hop's most famous b-boy. Back in the day in the 1980s, he and his Nuyorian friends in the South Bronx started the Rock Steady Crew. They went from battling on the dance floor to performing all over the world, breakdancing on TV and movies. That was Crazy Legs as Jennifer Beals' body double, spinning on his back at the end of "Flashdance."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT A FEELING")

IRENE CARA: (Singing) What a feeling. Bein's believing.

DEL BARCO: On Friday, Colon arrived at his house in Isabela on the northwestern part of Puerto Rico, the place where he lives when he's not in New York or traveling the world as a hip-hop ambassador for Red Bull.

RICHARD "CRAZY LEGS" COLON: (Whistling).

My ceiling fell. It blew it off. The roosters survived.

DEL BARCO: Colon's cement house was relatively unscathed from the hurricane, just a bit sandblasted.

COLON: Yo, Pete. Tell Angel Luis, we got to paint the house again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, yeah, buddy.

DEL BARCO: Colon says he's much more worried about the people in areas even more cut off from help where there's no clean drinking water.

COLON: That affects me because then it's like, you're sitting here watching everything that your DNA is about go through a struggle.

DEL BARCO: Colon and his hip-hop buddies started Rock Steady For Life, a campaign to help Puerto Ricans affected by the hurricane. He came back to his second home with loads of supplies. And he came to work with a nonprofit group called Waves For Water that provides portable clean water filters to people around the world. On the porch of his house, Colon and his neighbors watch a demonstration.

(SOUNDBITE OF POURING WATER)

ROB MCQUEEN: It's gravity. That's it.

DEL BARCO: Waves For Water leader Rob McQueen shows them how to create water filtration systems out of very simple materials - a plastic pocket, a rubber hose and a small filter that purifies the water from biological contamination.

(SOUNDBITE OF POURING WATER)

MCQUEEN: Nice and clear. Dirty water, clean water - agua sucia, agua limpia. I've done this in 17 countries myself. I always drink first. I never get sick. I was doing this...

COLON: Can I drink first this time?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter).

MCQUEEN: Absolutely, brother. Absolutely.

COLON: That's amazing.

DEL BARCO: Tomorrow, Colon and the team will deliver 300 of these water filtration systems and buckets to the more isolated areas in the northwest part of the island. The idea is to train local leaders to show others how to use them. Colon's friend Boris Culbero says people in remote areas have been drinking water from contaminated creeks.

BORIS CULBERO: Those water purifiers - man (laughter) you hit the spot.

COLON: We need to empower ourselves. We need to self-sustain.

DEL BARCO: But Colon says he's disgusted by President Trump's response to the Puerto Rican disaster.

COLON: Trump's lack of care or empathy or sympathy is just one of those things where, why are you even planning to come to Puerto Rico? I mean, me, just a b-boy from the Bronx, how the hell is it that I was able to get here before the president of the United States?

DEL BARCO: Colon says his relief effort is not a one-off. off. He and Waves For Water will continue checking up on those water filter systems. As Crazy Legs used to say, on and on to the break of dawn. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Isabela, Puerto Rico.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JIMMY CASTOR BUNCH SONG, "IT'S JUST BEGUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.