By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Yusef Salaam, a man who endured wrongful imprisonment, has launched a campaign for a seat on the New York City Council.
Widely recognized for the unjust ordeal that altered the trajectory of his life, Salaam now aspires to join the very power structure that once condemned him.
In 1989, when Salaam was just 15 years old, he and four other African American teenagers, collectively known as the Central Park Five, were apprehended by the police.
Falsely accused and convicted of raping and assaulting a white woman in Central Park on April 19 of that fateful year, the group faced years of wrongful incarceration.
Reflecting on his experiences, Salaam remarked during an interview with the Associated Press at his campaign headquarters, “I’ve often said that those who have been close to the pain should have a seat at the table.”
Salaam’s and his co-defendants’ miscarriages of justice, which included Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, attracted national attention.
Their convictions were overturned in 2002 when new evidence, including DNA analysis, linked the crime to a serial rapist.
The city awarded the group, now known as the Exonerated Five, a settlement of $41 million.
Salaam counts among three candidates locked in a closely contested Democratic primary scheduled for June 27.
The primary outcome will determine who will represent Harlem’s district in the City Council.
“When people look at me and learn my story, they resonate with it,” Salaam expressed with conviction.
“But now, after 34 years, I can utilize the platform I have to repurpose the pain and help uplift people as we emerge from despair.”
As a native New Yorker, Salaam passionately seeks to address some of Harlem’s most pressing challenges, including poverty, homelessness among children, and the ongoing issue of affordable housing.
Political experts said Salaam’s campaign represents a remarkable journey of resilience and pursuit of redemption.
If successful, he said a goal is to leverage his unique perspective and experiences to advocate for those historically marginalized and neglected.