In an extremely impactful Zoom presentation on Wednesday night, February 24, MBS families listened to a conversation between award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, who collaborated on Punching the Air, a powerful novel about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated.
The event was part of the Crimson Conversations series as well as the annual MBS Book Fair. In addition, Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam will speak to MBS students in electives focusing on creative writing and the justice system this Friday.
The book, which is written in verse, tells a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth in a system designed to strip him of both. In their conversation, Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam spoke about their artistic collaboration, placed the “Central Park jogger” case in an historical context, addressed the racial injustice that exists today, and discussed whether they see signs of hope for the future.
Ibi Zoboi underscored the importance of reaching today’s young people and said that she hopes Punching the Air will help “start the shift — one child, one book, one conversation at a time.”
Dr. Yusef Salaam was just 15 years old when his life was upended after being wrongly convicted with four other boys in the “Central Park jogger” case. In 2002, after the young men spent years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. Now known as the Exonerated Five, their story has been documented in the award-winning film The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon and in Ava DuVernay’s highly acclaimed series When They See Us. Yusef is now a poet, activist, and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, among other honors. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Sanovia, and their children.
Ibi Zoboi holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough. Born in Haiti and raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.