b'Air-Punchingand ExonerationMaplewoods Ibi Zoboi teams up with Yusef Salaam to write a must-read verse novelBY MALIA RULON HERMANM aplewood author Ibiother men convicted in the case had their con-Zobois beautiful yetvictions nullified by the state of New York in heartbreakingnovel,2002. In between his release and his exonera-writtenentirelyintion, Salaam attended Hunter College, where verse, about a Blackhe met Zoboi.teenager sent to pris- Zoboi was editor of the college newspaper onafterbeingcon- and was astonished to discover that Salaam was victed of a crime he didnt commit couldnt havein one of her classes. I went chasing after him come at a more relevant time.for an interview, she says. But Salaam wasnt With the country embroiled in Black Livesready to share his story.Matter protests after the killings of Ahmaud Ar- Three years ago, the two ran into each other bery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among soagain. This time, Zoboi was an award-winning many others, it almost seems as though Zoboi hadauthor of young adult novels. Her novel Ameri-uncanny foresight in the writing of her book. can Street was a National Book Award finalist The core themeof a 16-year-old, Amal Sha- Thats when another Black Muslim teenager, YusefandaNew York TimesNotableBook.Sheis hid, who gets into an altercation in a gentrifyingSalaam, spent a warm April evening in 1989 hangingalso the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream neighborhood that leaves a white boy in the hospitalaround with a few friends. Salaam, who was 15 at theSandwich, a New York Times best-seller.and Amal in prisonis not new. Nor are the abusestime, was arrested along with four others, tried, andI was shocked that he (Salaam) had not already he endures, and assumptions made about him be- convicted of a rape he did not commit.told his story, Zoboi says. cause of the color of his skin. Neither are the twoZoboi says that the so-called Central Park jog- ButwithAvaDeVernaysNetflixseriesWhen worlds he describes as his reality.ger case was her earliest memory of bearing witnessThey See Us, which chronicles the story of Salaam In fact, Zobois novel, Punching the Air, whichto injustice. But there were more: Yusef Hawkins.and the four other Black and brown men involved in debuted in bookstores on September 1 and will beMichael Griffith. Amadou Diallo. All of these storiesthe Central Park case (now known as the Exonerated the topic of a discussion at the Maplewood Librarysinspired her to become a writer.Five) in the works, Zoboi set her sights on telling IdeasFestivalonOctober15,gotitsinspirationSalaam, who co-authored the book with Zoboi,Salaams story from a different perspective.from an event that happened more than two decadesserved six years and eight months in juvenile deten- ZoboiandSalaamcollaboratedonthenovel ago in Central Park. tion before being released in 1997. He and the fourPunching the Air, and while the events in the book 10/ matters magazine / fall 2020'