From Central Park Five to city council nominee

Jul 7, 2023, 12:00 PM

FILE-New York City Council candidate Yusef Salaam speaks during an interview with The Associated Pr...

FILE-New York City Council candidate Yusef Salaam speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, in New York. Salaam, one of the exonerated “Central Park Five,” has won the Democratic primary, Wednesday, July 7, all but assuring him a seat on the New York City Council. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

(Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

NEW YORK CITY — His name is Yusef Salaam. He was one of the Central Park Five, now known as the Exonerated Five. Today, he is the winner of the Democratic primary for a New York City Council seat.

In 1989, Salaam was arrested along with four other boys of color, for the rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park. He served nearly seven years for a crime he did not commit. He was only exonerated after a serial murderer and rapist confessed.

Salaam spoke this morning to CNN.

“I’m looking back at the journey that I’ve come through, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Wow. All the things that have happened, every single piece, the good, the bad, the ugly, have prepared me for this moment’,” said Salaam. 

Guided by faith

Salaam’s faith guided him through the dark years of his youth.

“All throughout the journey, I knew that my faith was guiding me,” he said. “I was hanging on to the rope that God extends to all of us. That’s what allowed me to jump over barriers, figure out ways forward.”

Salaam talked today about how we all must know that we were born on purpose, and therefore we have a purpose.

He talked about the days after he was arrested.

“When they told me what they told me about myself, the hope was that I would accept it,” Salaam explained. “The hope is that I would say, ‘I was born a mistake. So, therefore, I’m going to live my life as if I were a mistake’.”

Salaam had to remind me, with the love and support of his family, that he was born on purpose.

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams, not their nightmares.”

What Yusef Salaam brings to politics

Salaam looks at the injustice of his young life as something that has prepared him for leadership.

“I wasn’t supposed to be able to come out unscathed,” he said. “We still have indelible scars, of course, but those scars allow me to peer into the darkness, to understand where those pain points are for our people.”

“We have to have a seat at the table,” Salaam said. “If we’re not at the table, our lives are being decided for us. Therefore, we’re on the menu.”

He quickly admits that if he and his friends had been guilty of attacking that woman in Central Park, they should all have gone to prison.

“But we weren’t guilty,” he emphasized.

“Our job now is to reflect the light. I was plunged into darkness, and I had to find tools to build light in that dark space,” he continued. “That is the challenge — we have to lift as we climb. It’s about moving mountains.”

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From Central Park Five to city council nominee