Punching the Air: Yusef Salaam's 2021 BGHB Fiction and Poetry Honor Speech

Hello everyone, my name is Dr. Yusef Salaam, member of the Exonerated Five, and co-author of Punching the Air, alongside my friend Ibi Zoboi.

I’d like to thank each person who has taken the time to engage with this story. I hope that it gives you a better understanding of my journey, and why it’s been so important to share with the world.

Being Black in America is a never-ending fight for freedom, equality, and justice.

But we must not let these hardships deter us. We must not let them win. My hope is that by sharing my truth, through the eyes of Amal Shahid, I will continue to give light in the world amidst the darkness around us, and give a voice to those who are voiceless.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2021 BGHB Fiction and Poetry winners.]

We’re humbled that the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee has selected Punching the Air as an honoree, as it further solidifies the value our story holds. Our story is valuable because it seeks to restore humanity. We wanted to showcase how our shared humanity brings us together — from those trodden down by the spike wheels of justice, to those facing their own personal struggles, to those around the world looking for their own voice.

Thank you for this honor, thank you for seeing the value in highlighting Black voices, and thank you for letting us tell this story of freedom and humanity.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read co-author Ibi Zoboi's BGHB speech here and illustrator Omar T. Pasha's here. For more on the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB21. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Yusef Salaam.

Yusef Salaam

Yusef Salaam is the co-author, with Ibi Zoboi, of the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor book Punching the Air, illustrated by Omar T. Pasha.

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