“The worse thing to happen to us should not define us,” said Yusef Salaam.
The 46-year-old sounded like a sage, as he sat proudly in a tall chair during our interview via Zoom.
By now you have most certainly heard his name. Yusef Salaam, the author, activist and member of the Exonerated Five, has become quite the celebrity (especially after the release of Ava DuVernay’s 2019 series When They See Us).
But this “fame” came out of great adversity.
As an innocent teenager, Salaam, along with Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Kevin Richardson, were interrogated, mistreated and manipulated by the police. This ultimately led to his wrongful conviction for rape and assault. After serving nearly seven years for a crime he did not commit, Salaam somehow harbors no resentment.
“I look at the Central Park jogger case and they wanted us to go through this awful experience. But, unbeknownst to them, because of the hand of God, I was able to grow through this experience.” Indeed, we’ve seen the growth through his advocacy, speeches and various books.
In his latest memoir, Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice, Salaam explores this journey. “This is not just a story about my life, but this is a story about being Black in America,” the activist tells The Root.
Salaam says that American system tried to oppress him, “Not only did they try to bury me, but I was a seed and that seed is now blossoming and blooming.”
See our entire conversation with Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five above.
Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice is available now.