That Time Yusef Salaam Changed My Life

I first heard Yusef Salaam speak at one of the national White Privilege Conferences several years ago.  He was one of the keynoters and after hearing him, I tossed the rest of my schedule and attended every one of his workshops for the rest of the week.  His story changed my life.

During one of the breaks, I was in the hallway staring into space talking with a woman from Massachusetts about Salaam’s story, trying to process the profundity of it all. And then I realized that we were standing beside a table stacked with the book Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. The woman had been selling the book and I figured the least I could do was buy a copy since I’d taken so much of her time.  Her name was Debby Irving.

The story of Yusef Salaam and four other men of color is unspeakably disturbing.  And now that Ava Duvernay’s four part Netflix series about The Central Park Five is available, I wish every American would watch it.

When They See Us is not for the fainthearted.  It made me sick actually.  But it tells a true story and a True story:  the criminal justice system in this country is beyond broken.  White Supremacy is embedded in our nation’s DNA and the fallout has contaminated every single one of us.

Please watch this series and talk about it with your people.  It’s sadly one of thousands of stories that will never be told by Netflix.  It’s a story tied to the long history of chattel slavery from 1619 to the present.  It’s a story that each of us needs to know – especially those of us who consider ourselves to be white.

The amazing thing about Yusef Salaam is that he continues to be a man of peace.  After everything he’s endured, he calmly speaks about justice for all.  After experiencing the most destructive features of racism, he works to fight racial injustice with hope.  He honestly changed my life.  For the love of God, listen to his story.

Image from June 27, 2014 when The Central Park Five won a lawsuit in civil court after their wrongful conviction.  Yusuf Salaam is in the center of the photo. Also, next year’s White Privilege Conference will be April 1-4, 2020 in Mesa, Arizona. Presbyterians get a discount thanks to MC.

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