Yusef Salaam was born and raised in the city of New York. He attended Public School 83, Manhattan East, The Arts Student League of New York and enjoyed studying art at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and jewelry making at the Fashion Institute of Technology.A well-disciplined child, Yusef was preparing to put his talents to use as a graphic designer, when on April 19th 1989, at just 15 years of age, he learned that he, along with other young boys were being falsely arrested for the horrific crime of rape. The victim had no memory of the incident; and these boys, who later became known as the ‘Central Park 5’, became victims themselves in New York City’s historical “Central Park Jogger Case.”
Yusef relives the effect that this case had on his life as the police sporadically rounded up Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and himself, all ranging from 14 - 16 years old, and all with no prior arrest records. They were all interrogated with tactics meant for adults; denied their right to a phone call, their parents, food or water for prolonged periods of time. Yusef remembers hearing one of his friends being beaten and physically forced to falsely admit to this crime. All five were tried and convicted.
In May 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murdered, admitted he was the sole attacker of the jogger. His details of the crime and DNA were proof. On December 19th 2002, the convictions of The Central Park 5 were overturned; yet all 5 boys, now men, served time in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Yusef Salaam served approximately 7 years of his life in prison along with 3 years on parole, and had to live with the shame of having to register as a sex offender.
Now a proud father, Yusef speaks on the importance of continuing education, the need for videotaping of all police interrogations, for policy change in the child welfare system & the prison industrial complex, the effects of the disenfranchisement of poor people and its overwhelming effects on their families and the entire community at large. He also advocates against Capital Punishment of falsely imprisoned people, and is a poet.
Yusef Salaam sits on the Board of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the advisory Board for The Learn My History Foundation: dedicated to Youth Empowerment, Education and Change, and is the inspiration behind People United for Children.