Ric Speaks with the Authors about the Story of Racial Violence
and Wrongful Imprisonment, Inspired by Dr. Salaam’s
Experience as a Member of the Central Park FiveIn 1989, Dr. Yusef Salaam was just fifteen years old when he was tried and convicted in the “Central Park Jogger Case” along with four other Black and Latino boys. The Central Park Five, as they were known, spent between seven to thirteen years behind bars, until the true killer confessed and their sentences were overturned in 2002. At that point, they renamed themselves “the Exonerated Five” (the name Dr. Salaam prefers). Since then, they received a multimillion-dollar settlement from the City of New York for its injustice and were profiled in award-winning films, including Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five documentary and Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series When They See Us.
Dr. Salaam collaborated with National Book Award Finalist Ibi Zoboi (American Street) on the highly anticipated new YA novel Punching the Air. Punching the Air tells the story of Amal Shahid, a Black, Muslim teen who finds himself in an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood and is wrongfully sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. According to Ibi Zoboi, “The center of Amal’s story is the cycle of racial violence that continues to plague this country, but this is not just a story about a crime or race. It’s about the power of art, faith, and transcendence in the most debilitating circumstances.”
Dr. Salaam added, “Punching the Air reflects not only my story, but the stories of millions of young boys and girls of color who face the injustice of mass incarceration and the criminal justice system. Books have the power to change the way we think and transform societies. This novel is a continuation of my work to shine a light on the reality of our criminal justice system and inspire young people to advocate for change.”
“Punching the Air” is available wherever books are sold.