Yusef Salaam’s Eight Essential Books To Read About Black History
This reading list has been compiled by Dr. Yusef Salaam, who – at the age of just fifteen – was wrongly convicted alongside four other boys in the ‘Central Park jogger’ case of 1989.
The boys would become known in media as The Central Park Five, and were finally exonerated following a 2002 confession from the real attacker. Their story was recently told in Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us.
Now a poet, activist and inspirational speaker, Dr. Salaam has received various honours throughout his life, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama.
These books are part of a larger discourse that addresses the many inequalities Black people face in America, especially children.
One of these books, The Mis-Education of the Negro was published in 1933 and many of Carter G. Woodson’s points are still relevant today.
Books like Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds reflect Black boys and the decisions they face as a result of living in violent and oftentimes poverty-stricken environments.
These books allow for empathy and understanding and Punching the Air is part of that legacy.
1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness by Michelle Alexander.
Hailed as a ‘Bible of a social movement’ by the San Francisco Chronicle, The New Jim Crow explores how the structures that perpetuate racism in America have shifted over time.
Beginning in 1776, before America became independent from British rule, lawyer and activist Michelle Alexander details how racial injustice has persisted throughout each stage of US history, intertwined with politics, employment opportunities and the criminal justice system.
Alexander goes on to explore how Black men have been targeted through the War on Drugs, and looks at the role of mass incarceration as a means of racial control.
2. Just Mercy: A Story Of Justice And Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy delves into the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) an Alabama based non-profit law office co-founded by the author while he was still a young lawyer.
A memoir of injustice, Stevenson recounts his time representing Walter McMillian, a man who served time on death row after being accused of killing a white woman in the 1980s.
3. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
Stamped explores how racist ideas in the US came about, and how they have persisted through the centuries, influencing public policy and resulting in divisive views.
This book encourages readers to examine the insidious forms of racism they see in their own lives, and to strive to discredit and stamp out such hatred.
4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.
Long Way Down is a novel which explores the issue of teenage gun violence, written in powerful, poetic verse.
The narrative follows young Will, whose brother was killed due to gang violence. Intent on getting revenge, he is visited by various faces from his past.
5. Monster by Walter Dean Myers.
Monster is a young adult model written as a mix of third-person screenplay and first-person diary format.
The narrative follows 16-year-old Steve Harmon, a teenage boy serving time in a juvenile detention centre during a murder trial.
A tense courtroom drama, we see Steve reflect back on his young life and understanding of the world, as others pass their judgements on him.
6. The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson.
Originally published in 1933, this book criticises the Euro-centric based curriculums in schools which exclude African American history and culture.
Woodson’s thoughts on this matter are still very relevant today, with school curriculums facing renewed scrutiny about the lack of inclusivity in texts and subject matter.
7. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Woods.
Pushout examines how Black girls in US schools face disproportionate punishments and suspensions compared with their white counterparts.
Woods looks at the stigma these students have to contend with, having spoken with young girls from a variety of backgrounds about their school experiences.
8. Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu.
Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys offers advice to parents, teachers and others about how to correct the dehumanisation of African American children, with a focus on helping young Black boys to become ‘strong, responsible and committed’ adults.
The book explores the importance of various rite of passage activities, such as mentoring, male bonding, and spirituality.
You can find out more about Dr. Yusef Salaam and his work here
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