« Good Life Project

Dr. Yusef Salaam & Ibi Zoboi | Punching the Air

2020-09-08 | 🔗

Today is a special conversation, featuring two guests. Dr. Yusef Salaam was just fifteen years old when his life was upended after being wrongly convicted with four other boys in the “Central Park jogger” case. In 2002, after the young men spent years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. Now known as the Exonerated Five, their story has been documented in the award-winning film The Central Park Five by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon and in Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed series When They See Us. Yusef is now a poet, activist, and inspirational speaker. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama, among other honors. 

Ibi Zoboi is a novelist and editor, born in Haiti, and raised in Brooklyn, she found a love of writing, and poetry and eventually pursued an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, before launching a career in journalism and then fiction. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and it the editor of the anthology Black Enough. 

The two met briefly some 21 years ago, for a walk and talk that would eventually bring them back together to collaborate on a YA novel called Punching the Air (https://amzn.to/2PkcRND) that integrates Yusef’s story, poetry and illustrations with Ibi’s powerful storytelling to create a novel in verse that speak powerfully to issues of equity, dignity, art as a form of therapeutic depression and restoration. We drop into so many points along each of their journeys, how they first met and the context for that meeting that would change both their lives and nearly 20 years later, they came back together to co-create this rich novel in verse.

You can find Ibi Zoboi at:

Website : http://www.ibizoboi.net/

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/ibizoboi/

You can find Dr. Yusef Salaam at:

Website : http://www.yusefspeaks.com/

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/dr.yusefsalaam/


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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today is a very special conversation, as are all conversations featuring to gas. Doktor uses alarm was just fifteen years old when his life was up entered after being wrongfully convicted with four other boys in the central park jogger case in two thousand to after the young men spent years over, there lies behind bars, their sentences were overturned and now known as the exonerated five. Their story has been documented in the award winning film. The central part five by can burn Sarah burns and did admit man and an avenue her knees acclaim series when they see us use. It is now a poet and activist and inspirational speaker, and he is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from president Barack Obama, among others, my
I guessed ab is a boy. Is a novelist and editor born in haiti and raised in brooklyn. She found a love of writing and poetry and eventually pursued her emma Faye from vermont college of fine arts before launching a career in journalism and then fiction and her novel american street was a national book award finalist and the new york times notable book and she's. Also, the author of pride and my life as an ice cream sandwich, which was a near times bestseller and the editor of the anthology black enough and the two met briefly some twenty one years ago that led to a walk and talk that took them from midtown manhattan to harlem, which, if anyone knows anything about the city, is a very long walk and a deep, deep conversation that would eventually bring them back together decades later to collaborate on a y. A novel called punching the air that integrates use of story and poetry and illustrations with a bs, powerful storytelling to create a novel in verse that speaks so deeply to issues of equity, dignity, art as therapeutic expression and restoration. We drop into so many of these points along each of their journeys and explore how they came back together to create something truly extraordinary, so excited to share this conversation with you. I'm Jonathan fields- and this is good life project-
as a I even work where it is creativity, come from. What's the secret to living longer, ted radio, our explores the biggest questions with some of the world's greatest thinkers. They will surprise challenge and even change. You wasn't a and b shares ted radio, our wherever you get your PA guests.
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So the ten percent happier podcast has one guiding philosophy. Happiness is a skill that you can learn, so why not embrace it and it's hosted by dan Harris a journalist who had a panic attack on national television and then set out on this journey of transformation and he's now on a quest to help others also achieve peace and happiness, and every week Dan talked to top scientists meditation teachers. Even the odd celebrity in wide ranging conversations that explore topics like productivity, anxiety and lightness, psychedelics and relationships. The interviews cover everyone from brene brown to sara burrell us to SAM Harrison more. I love learning from his questions and experiences, an incredible guests. Think of listening to ten percent happier as a workout for your mind, find ten percent happier wherever you listen to podcasts, so you both Originally, it was ninety nine. There is a clear a hundred college where you're both attending and- and I want to talk about that moment and what what came out of it, because I know
a conversation that began that took you on a walk from sixty eighth street up to harlem, which, for those who are not familiar with new york city, is not a walk often done, and then a kind of vanished into the background for a number of years before it led to this recent collaboration. But let's what sort of put a whole on that for the moment, because I'm also curious so that decade or so leading up to that meeting and ninety nine was profoundly different experience of life for each of you- and I want him at that a little bit, and then what kind of will work our way back to that meeting and then forward from there? Why don't? We actually start with the erie erie with you. I know originally born in Haiti, raised him in a bush in brooklyn, at a time where further no bush. With these days, a lot of times, people associated with judge a lotta hipsters, amazing street art and our quote artisanal food, eighties and ideas very different place,
I am emigrated to the united states from Haiti in nineteen eighty one I was four years old and the neighbourhood that my mother could afford. It was just me, and my mother was bush wick so bush, which at the time was very broken and dilapidated. Very much the bronx and harlem. So these neighborhoods had run down buildings burnt out buildings because of the ecb. Extreme. That was in new york city in the seventies. So she rented a top floor apartment in a brown stone by a friend. and a friend of a friend, another haitian immigrant who had his own business in the basement floor and he was taylor and we get the time was affordable for a lot of immigrants because it was sort of no man's land. and for a long time it was just me in her. I left bushwhack in nineteen eighty seven and we move to each new york, brooklyn,
another broken and dilapidated neighbourhood that's another place that she could afford. So well as an immigrant. I was aware of new york street culture, but was not part of it. I was a child, of course, so, as a single mother, she was very over protective, and I want new york city through the top floor window of a building or a brownstone apartment and when I was allowed to play with the neighbourhood kids outside that made fun of and teased, but important aspect about my growing up in new york city is the level of fear that my mother had around the neighbourhood kids. So now I know that kids are just being kids, they are a product of their environment but as an immigrant as a single mother. My mother was a single mother, as the only her only daughter, time neighbour,
Kids were sort of a threat, she was mugged bushmeat park and she was mugged of a few times. In fact, and sort of fear she instilled in for a very long time. Up until me, no high school when I started you know having boyfriends still remembered the neighbourhood kids being sort of a threat and down. I was actually in six grade and each new york brooklyn when the central part five case had happened, but for that? I remember bernard gets in the subway vigilante trial. I remember all those other racial violence incidents in new york city. I watched it in the news. I was a latchkey kid and this all filtered into just my whole view in perspective of new york city. As a child as an immigrant child and as a girl, quite frankly, yeah, so I mean there there's a sense of them, danger that if that is built- and here I am- I mean intimate if my understanding is also I mean-
part of it. I know your montana incredibly active I'm curious also whether the was entirely responsive, just what she was experiencing in iran, new york in the eighties, whether some of that also was drawn from circumstances that led her and you too originally leave haiti in the first place where she was it essentially fleeing a relationship. Fur say purposes, for both of you yeah exactly my mother was a broadcaster lists in haiti, and my father was the owner of the radio station and he was thirty years older than her So what she was fleeing in a sense was another form of patriarchy. That looks somewhat different. then it does here in his country, in that women go into relationships for financial support in an in a different way. fear there is no choice, they tell young people. When I talk about my immigrant story is that
There is no six sexual harassment and third, world or developing country there is sexual harassment, but there's no calling it out meeting movements look very different in the in the developing world and my mother fled haiti because she was in a very toxic relationship that wasn't a relationship with my father, who was already married with two children. So yes, that sort of relationship to the men who are in our communities the sort of violence that can result from that sort of power structure we both to that with us to new york city where, I dont men were a threat, a boyhood culture that sort of them brazen, boyhood culture. That was so much of new york city was a source of fear for her and for time, but my little brother was born over time. She just
there stood new york city, culture and american racial politics a little bit more and that of course changed. But she was in her twenties. I was a child and we can't. I can't forget the fact that that was part of our world view, along with the violence that was so pervasive in new york city at the time It sounds like for you also, at least in part art and eventually riding almost the dual purpose as some form of expression, but also refuge to a certain extent, absolutely I didn't want to be a fiction writer at first. I wanted to be a journalist because, as I mentioned before, I was a latchkey kid and the, either the forks five o clock news, six o clock news, ten ten wins playing in the background nigger just with It was an endless new cycle in new york. There was always something happening and it was always making the news and that was part of my subconscious ass, a child and of course
there was the new daily news a noose day and the your post was always at my home. and I was just inundated with information. That was fascinated because I was an immigrant and I wanted to understand this world that we had just moved into so for me processing. What was going on and what sort of plan that I had we had just come into, because I always felt that we were aliens, because we had our current green cards that said resident alien and down a young read that nl to mean that we are actually aliens as a child, but this is how process information. This is how I process a new country and a new culture was through the news, but the news was an always You know the fluffy, and you know it wasn't always good news and in new york city black boys, black men were always the headlines, and it was just not the descriptors for black men and boys
were not always good, not good at all, actually and then also shaped my worldview near. You end up going to school me with her a window where you start sounds like in the early days in a politically minded, almost mostly thinking, you might be a lawyer, and then somehow navigate to begin slam, poet, artist, come out. I guess, with more of that really journalist, intent and really pursuing writing, eventually getting the masters and so you're pursuing this and sort of seo case of this thing, that was a form of of refuge, synthesis and expression. Now, in the I'm going to study and gunnar pursuing education in it and then move into the world and start to do it, which I think brings us pretty close to At first meeting in college me while use if your life leading this point is profoundly different. Absolutely, absolutely my life thumb.
well. Actually, no, I shouldn't say it's profoundly different. I wouldn't necessarily describe it that way. Up until I was the I was at you know at the age of this terrible incident happening to me. I think, prior to that incident. The experts, in that we would have in this country was a shared experience. I used to wonder Why was I who, with everyone, why was I? I was accepted by everyone it wasn't until I got older and even I want to say even in until maybe a few years ago as well, where the realisation of what other p who saw when they saw me, was not what my routes, in this country was- and I say that, because you know people when they looked at me. They said, oh he's not from here and in that being seen almost away like he was saying as an alien right, a foreign.
a person who is not necessarily here. I took that differently from what it was. I think Alluding to not necessarily would be from this planet being like an alien, if that, if I'm thinking about it correctly, even Wang well yeah I is kept saying in a way I can go to brooklyn and nobody messes with me, gotta queens and no one messes with me, I can go to the bronx and no one messes with me And I said it wasn't until I got older much older than I realize that No one associated me with being an four can american up, and born in this country, everyone associated me with being a person emigrated to this country whose roots warrant fur this country. Where my father was born, in chicago from afar families from barbadoes by way of africa I always say that where's, my mother, she was born. in Birmingham alabama.
Of course you know. If you look in her features, she looks almost some somalian. she has a african so to speak. Feet and then you look at me aside, guys from synagogue, You know he looks like he's from Senegal and so no one ever associated me with the struggles that we africans in america or african americans experience and almost to a diff to work on a document for ourselves. We get try. Whereas the latter folks who come to this country as immigrants people who have experienced like other. this is knowing the value of education knowing the value of hard work. Knowing the valley, your family, you know be born in this country in the mid seventies late. Seven, these early eighties is to be born in a war, and really that war was perpetuated against us before that time, but
it's to be born in a war where you are not manufacturing any the tools of that war, that is being upon you and so you're. Not creating you know, you know, begun a gun manufacturing place in your garage and you a warehouse where you can create these things in your you're, gonna, growing poppy you know you're, not growing, cocaine, stuff and whatever the paraphernalia is you? Don't you don't have marijuana plants in your backyard? Is so somehow these things are in undated in the black and brown communities and I dont want to necessarily just say it from that perspective because it so inundated in america, but the epidemic that, we experience in more recent times, which is given the really beautiful name, the ogre epidemic it allow for people to see this as a crisis to see as a Instead of us, locking people up and thrown throwing away the key, we need to open up the Betty fort clinics
the world. We need to really assist these people who are having this trouble to travel, help them get out of. You know this. This troubled at the room, whereas in the in the These, I remember very clearly walking around my neighborhood and neighbourhoods any neighbourhood. I was in an The blackest neighborhoods in the most downtrodden neighborhoods in a most marginalized neighborhoods. We would cease what look like Skill tops and ask those tat were tops of crack democratically in other types of cracking, you see it in a one, it wouldn't be. natural, to see that it would be like very normal, you'll, be very normal to see young in and young girls, young boys and girls playing in alleys that homeless, people also frequent at night. flipping on dirty mattresses, I mean, when I think about that now, MIKE. It is the most horrific
reality apparent once to even like four up for my child. For my son's, my daughters to have two. I have gone through what I went through his light. I would never want them to have to play in an alley, whereas dirty matters that has rusted cos He was coming out of it, but that was what we experience it wasn't. There was so natural and, coupled with that was the oppression that wasn't normal, it was very normal to see police officers in the streets and the relationship to be on a really the ship in some ways that was about what's relationship please also. I must officer you know you would see them and it will be called in order that they would know you there was. There was a more familiar to you but that was happening. But then was also the officers. There was always the officers small they may have been. Who would be cool?
the bad apples. They will be the ones that would be given those famous names and our communities like robocop. You know, they would be the ones who would come into the community. I'm too. Transfer, and I'm trying explain it this way, so that it can be very clearly understood, transfer, there? Low sense of self worth in value, To the community to make the community fear them, which then elevate their own sense of of strength, right and so to see people get beat up, backups was normal to see people and until one I a bit up, I'm talking about people being beat up. People in handcuffs people being hit with the buttons, hidden your private areas. All it s, though also never be taken to the preset belied literally like just lead,
but the car you know next time it'll be different, would be something Is what you would here you would never understand what tat meant until five, Forward a little bit. The era of you, know the ladys, The era where an attorney who would become my appellate attorney? Who was perhaps one of the legend, in amerika was fighting A trial for a young man named Larry Davis and the story kind of exploded into this, like Unimaginable and. Realistic, we'll life We slash, Jason bourne, slash all the stuff that you can see today. He is a man who,
had aspirations in dreams. According to his own story that he wanted to be a hip, hop artists, but he was more analyze. It was part of that marginalize community. He was part of the war that he didn't know. He was into an a b in a bullet, to become success, yet, as hiphop orders. He then began to so drugs and wholly he so drugs for for the police department. and at this point he wanted to get out. He felt tat. He had had enough I've never heard him say this. Of course he passed away. He was where did in prison, but I suspect that is conscious got the best of him, because we always knew in the communities that we came from even the people. I was summoned drugs to the community. They also provide the community with a certain level of security. They go party state. They gave back in a way that was kind of weird
you think about it now, but it was theirs their way of saying we know we're doing wrong, and this is way to try to do right, and so they would, you know, give up turkey's on thanksgiving They would be the ones that would pay people's rents. You know, They would also be the ones that would make sure that nobody said anything by the pain of the rents and the effect that turkey's giving the turkey your ways in the blue parties and all that stuff. It was it. It was a taking those lemons and making money. You know was really a different type of new york and a different type of experience but those of us who were growing up in their timeframe. We didn't know but we had no idea that. the communities that baby was talking about that we both experience were manufactured that way, meaning people were
really burning down buildings are setting fire to buildings, to drive the property value gown so, later on, and this is him you know when you think about me, you think about planning. we have to by we I'm talking about, though a bus who care to live in a future where the kaleidoscope of the human family is able to. become the dream of a doktor king and really a dream of our ancestors right, the same short that able do when they had on. They said I and my ancestors wildest dreams. The hope of the the future being able to survive but survive and of great way, not by hook or by crook. You know, and we didn't know that we were experiencing, that we were experiencing red lining happening right now, but that red lining was a part of our hundred year plan.
Right, we may plan for hey it's great in our communities when we can begin to train our young people to think you to have a plan by what you you plan to do tomorrow, you plan to do this week. What are you and do this my hey how's your yearly plan going right and get, and introduced about getting them introduced to planning five years out, but were also As we begin to experience, this war We're realizing that we're in even in the game. Yet even at that level, we're not in a game because we're coming against a people. We have planned centuries into the future, how to keep our one sided how to let those of us, who have been born in this country with the seeds of value
that says you have to work hard education matters, things of that nature who you know you leave your home, You know many young women experienced as they leave their homes in the morning to go to work and the same individuals that are outside holding up the side of the building or their will return home after work eight hours, ships, sometimes more than that You wonder: why is it that they can't or haven't yet decided. pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Is because they don't have no boots in the first place, he said, story that You become relatively conscious as doc. The bar, when I'm gonna call him doktor james bond right to be relatively conscious in america and to be a black person, is to be in state of rage at all times is to be walking in.
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Thank you for that. It is had a conversation with them. Ass, enchanting brown, a couple months back and down where he The first line of her book is white people exhaust me. agenda, and and then, when you read the recipe book species at me, I guess and middle age white man, I'm like o o o. And this is just the tip, the very, very, very, very tip of the iceberg, and so when you describe it, you know- and this has been this really interesting exe and in conversation right now that regular circle back to you with it, but is the backdrop of what Ebay and you are experiencing coming up new york city at special at it. At a time in the sea, where there emerging from the seventies, like you said there was really parts of the city that were burning not be,
it just happened: a catch fire because a lot landlords retorting their buildings, so they clear way for general vacation and higher values, and things like that, this really strong seems dynamic between law enforcement and kids indifferent neighborhoods you're on your story had, as has been pretty well told and documented eighty nine starts out as a woman jogging in central park. You and some other people are brought in through a lot of coercion and pressure end up in various different levels, confessing to something that nobody did and Laughter and ninety connected you up in juvenile prison. Effectively, close to seven years. The horrific experience one of the group, becomes known back, dennis hydropower, five and since tat, exonerated, five and rikers might ask, as he was sixteen at the time which
for those of us who nearly car or from new york everyone knows? The reputation of that place is just being horrendous into imagine. An being. There is horrifying to imagine a sixteen year old. Kid being there is, is horrendous. Are you all in endured as absolute devastation on for anywhere from six to thirteen years, quote your time, which was never your time in the first place And then emerged you You end up release, The timing is ripe, and ninety six, monday, said, gravely fur ninety seven early in the seven year right so so you and me: couple years later- the one of my curiosities is and will circle back a bit too what that experience was late, because you end up writing about this new. This really powerful, both together. You would eventually become exonerated in two thousand to because the person
whose dna was actually a part of this confessing and then defend If testing shows at all, if you'd never should have been there in the first place, In the window between when you're released from prison- and that happens. what's happening in your mind in your heart, in your life, because in theory you ve done your time, which was never your time to do your out. But in the mind of the world europe he'll guilty of a crime right. What was happening is higher in plain sight, you're you're, literally hiding in plain sight. I've been over six feet tall since I was twelve years old was very recognisable and the only thing was different was that I didn't have a flat top like I looked, similar to my youth, you know and. de the struggle to
Figure it out took year. I think part of figuring it out- is still happening there a a That happened in my development. That needed to not true happen in the first place, in order for me to Life freer. You know there's a certain reality. That happens. I think when you become conscious, like doktor James Baldwin, said where. you're, like oh. Sugar, honey, iced tea mean to tell me that. Poverty is a manufacturer thing that there's School to prison pipeline that is designed and planned as young as four years old or in the fourth grade. I think it is obvious that four years old there's this thing,
That's going on right, alongside of regular normal life. There are often, as can I understand it a lot more what I realise that its appearing as ratio, inequality. but the truth is that as night, the truth is that it's really spiritual, wickedness and high and low places. We're battling the appearance. Of wanting to have our skin color matter. But the truth is that these people, who, Don't look like me who know we matter who treat us like we matter, but they are not the ones who are in power to make our lives matter right, and so therefore the struggle looks like a racial kind of thing. You know. Trying to
navigate the waters of adulthood. when you haven't even experienced youth to kill you you have to back. It is, is new open it up and you don't have the same tools that others have who ve been able. To make mistakes and say, oh My mother said make sure I read my work. Can try to do my homework. You know Therefore, when I'm prepare for the next day, up in the morning and number reviewing my notes so that I can go into class prepared and ready, as opposed to trying to do our homework just before I get to school being clearly unprepared in some ways and in many ways not prepared at all. You know On the one hand, those become building blocks to help you succeed as a person. Ro trial and error. You don't even have that
And what you have is this overwhelming sense of I'm thinking about the word mistake, but think about it in the context of you being a mistake, you being seeing as worthless and you begin to move throughout your life as a mistake in your Fine, I hold it together, you're trying to keep it all under, and everyone else on the outside is looking in and doesn't that they don't know that. That's what you're struggles are you know you put. An attack on in you, you change of mentality for yourself, because of that and so there was time where I would work in health care, and this is of course This was after was his after started understood I things I was in the school. I was in a classroom of life, but I was skipping greed,
because I was trying to figure it out, and I realise that I could change my my thoughts but changing my parents had nothing to do with. However, how anyone else saw me, but had in the do it. How I saw myself as so. If I walk by a mirror and looked at myself, I said wow, I clean up real nice. you know and feel good about their feel, like ok, At home my head up a little bit more, it's only inside my head was now. but I'm training myself to have thicker sky. I'm training myself to survive on training myself to be able to. No. Why. so that I can live anyhow. It's that all statement of nietzsche. If you know the why live anyhow and I'm china understand and I'm gonna live that I'm trying to figure out
like I'm already knowing miracles, that hand of god is in everything I'm already knowing that, because that's the that's the foundation of we. Thus, the foundational spirituality that I came from, but now have to know it in truth, has opposed the theory I have to begin to live it right, and I have to begin to believe it and so now, I'm walking throughout life on purpose, careful about where I step, because the the was pulled out from me, As a fifteen year old. I'm making sure that I'm intentional about where I go right. I'm walk out of the store that our boy things for with the receipt in my hand, right I'm doing all of these things to protect myself. but I am also hopeful, I'm also desire is up.
Knowing that, struggle that I went through was not for nothing and so things begin to progress, maybe doesn't know this. I don't think she knows this, but was a tie where, before coming to the classroom that we both met looking for a professor named on a richards and I'm looking looking looking and I can't find down a richard anywhere, and so it's one of those things where you know. it's almost I'm looking for a job, if you don't have the stick to it, ignores the wherewithal to keep going? you knock on one door say: oh, it didn't work, but I had to say, to witness a friend of mine said, listen, there's a professor at hunter, but you need to meet again. Her name is donna richards. I'm looking for donna riches who had changed her name too. marimba Annie. I can't find out of it.
No one knows who garner riches is until I back to the friend and I say: listen I've been looking for a few weeks now. You know I can't I can't fire she I am. I spelling the name right away. Is there like a are of a different spin? You know, is it it is an italian. Is it french said? Well what is it like? What am I getting wrong and they salem hold on? Let me find out and get back to me. Mind you. This is still the era where we don't have cell phones. We have beepers, we have pagers. We have. We have quarters in our pocket that we can use to pay that took make a phone, or after we get a message on our peter, and I get this message back from her. Let me know you changed your name. There were marimba unease. The world opened up I find the member professor die. Mobility and.
the truth about the matter was that I was not a student per se. An official student. I should say astute. I wasn't an official stolen in her class. It was part of the classroom of life. I wasn't this. You stood in her class, but I was allowed to be in her classroom strong where He was very selective about who was, able to be taught by her. She would tell us often look around half of you would not be here by the end of the week. And it wasn't because she would tell people that they couldn't be they just wasn't prepared, for the level of scholastic sites, for the deaths of. the vibration ass. She was about to take them to you know, and I was there being Like being too. Like listening to sitting to expression
you don't know forget it was as one class I was in her class in asked the question. and it was an african statement this statement she said I want to underline two on the banjo and You know we are looking around and, of course, as students had already been in her class, they did, they will return students, and so they were more familiar with her teeth. Style, and she said what are you here What's similar, what's familiar someone said a monk who right and come to find out? She was getting us to think even out out of the box that we didn't know this language. We hadn't been brought up in this language, but this was a part of our efforts, this right. One student says after we found out that emit a purse, I think the literal deafening
and I want to go onto the gabon too, was a person is a person because there are people. and so ass. She acts all of was one of the students said what that's like, that's like saying I be me, you be you you be me I'll, be you we be. the level of community That is created from that thought process If I can walk in your shoes, if I can experience life vicariously through you through conversation, and you can experience life vicariously through me through conversation Zena. phobia is gone. the idea that you all that different becomes a myth defunct. And were able to see each other for the first time were able to move with each other for the first time
even though the experiences may be different, but You are allowed to be. and I am allowed to be. As we allow each other to be, and it was done kind of thing where it was like, the appeal we need that were going on the ability for meeting, begin to think about them, petitions that I learned about, imprison big, to take root in a different way. I begin, play around on the movie of my mind of the The ability of what could be and then I began to. Be introduced to various folks, you know like J. That we may know an various folks and meeting eby. You know in in in how that happened, it was like the stars were lining up. It was like you already now when the when the stood in his ready, the teacher, will come down.
I'm curious about that moment to it at love. You be above elevator surly your lens as well. Well, I want to add that I don't Ventured did change her name to marimba me, so richard was part of the student nonviolent coordinating committee, an snick basically, and she was part of the court went to guinea to learn their swords van de colonizing ways when at a time when they were just try to figure out independence and part of that goal. Word was also John louis, the late John louis, so she and Jean louis work closely together and she was mary to Bob Moses, who was also in peru, voice in Snick. So donna richards was right at the lies in a different way
where she became more african centre. She studied african culture. She urged her phd in anthropology, so she took her political awareness and savvy and combine that with what she understood and learned about african history and culture, murder the two and her classes were incredibly innovative, and it wasn't just a class, it was a rice, a passage there was ritual drama broke down several times in her classes is one of the things that she would do was pressed A slot silent slide show and she would show images of india africans and then showed images right after that of the middle passage. Then she images of slavery she would show children in the cotton fields, then families with their black nannies and then
Images of black, then being lynched and then the civil rights movement and then the black power, both man and it was just a succession of images and The universe was in the late ninety souls pull slide, shows where he heard the click and the image and about You know forty five minutes of that and you'd see those images play blackened anything. It hits you there is no lecture or book can capture that moment when it finally hit. you and where young, in which five we figuring out figuring out at the slavery thing means what the result? What the consequences are so from me being scared of black wasted, my neighborhood to being radicalized at a college drew mama, run risk classes, that's exactly what actions by nineteen. Ninety nine. I also changed my name. I wrote for the college newspaper I was part, marimba Annie,
had on while we formed a club based on murmur unease, teachings cobb daughters of africa and stolen legacy, and we were just a bunch of black kids coming together and figuring out How do we survive this world and, as Talking about new york city youssef, I'm realising it if you were a black brown kid and grew up in new york city or an immigrant child growing up in new york city. We I think we still suffer from a little bit of ptsd pity s de all the news stories: economic, not just the news stories, as were the kids who were playing outside and who lived it. There's trauma. even- and I think some irish in italian. Kid lived events in hers, and other neighborhoods drew out new york city. There are some really high but things that happened. You know in the classroom and on the street. we played outside and we had to interact with each other without adult supervision, as so by the time it
to use up Amadou diallo had just happened in February. I met you in April of nineteen. Ninety nine and that incident radicalized. A lot of us- and that was part of the super spoken word movement in this- is how we figured he's out. We got on the stage engines. a blurted out are truths and a time everyone was writing a poem about forty one shots, and it was rage, alot of rage, a lot of hurt. We were taking to the streets very much vermin what's happening now across the country, I like to say, new york, city, eightys and ninetys near city is a michael cause. What is happening now in the country, because we had dial was not a political figure, but he was a political figure. If you understand sort of the underhanded, passing money under the table kind of politics. He was part of that we had giuliani. We have cash before that we had David.
In guinea. All of that rachel. You would think and looking back and you think it's you know it's the south, but it was new york city, racial tension was huge by the time I see you in the class in what data marimba honey had done when you walked in was home. her face. I don't remember that effective. I knew you all didn't do all year, We were as soon as you walked in and you had not yet been exaggerated- you were still falsely stood as a sex offender and did come in with a p cult on what you were saying about a certain time. You can't walk in a classroom extremely well driver. But you were our age, We didn't know for all of you know the case happened and when we re sort of forgotten about it, because we were thinking about Amadou, the ilo. And you want anyone who's, this guy who's, this guy and then
within a few minutes, while you said one of the central park, five. I was features editor for this. The anvil way, the hunter who I am managing editor. Of the shield magazine. There was the college newspaper and there was the black men earlier I was chasing that lead. I was get that story. Well that's alarm at the simplified just walked into our class. We don't even know if you were out and he's out it he's right. There I gotta go, get the stormy and Of course, you know I followed you out and you not with me, and we taught the longest conversation that we had it was about Donald trump. Until this day it is the longest conversation I've ever had about it. I'm charm- and you were kind of explaining to me. I remember, feeling of. Like I didn't do it. This man was responsible for going to jail cause he put out an ad in the newspaper now's like I remember that add it was
Six great classroom, so for me, was trying to get the story. I was writing about mumia Abu Jamal. I was writing about the hands off aside a movement and the we all political prisoners, movement while and interviewed. Mama remember looking to interview me to lucia core and finish a core. So I, with my goal, was to get a byline in the new york times, but before that the village voice to the village voice radical newspaper that that time, So all that was just mean chasing that story. I wanted to get you on paper interview with about your experiences. I know were in and around the school, but I never saw you again and again. You are not part of that class you were around might act around you around people knew you. We have some mutual friends, but then follow up with that story, and I think it was because you know
Years later, this was supposed to happen. so I guess that's what happened in the spring of nineteen ninety nine and then we run into each other again in the fall of twenty seventeen, and that was a debut. Why a author and was wondering why new. No young people knew of. story this was before when they see us netflix movie and again I taste that story. I wanted to tell that story because it's part of my new york up bringing to one. beautiful things about this experience. The shared experience that he be used about and describing I didn't know which I was able to experience through some of these. These classes was. there were moments specialists that were going on there. It was happening in the classroom, but then there were times when people would
Bob. I remember one time she had everybody closed their eyes and there was a You could hear way, often a distance. We were talking about something and then she said oh over close their eyes, we will be doing this thing. I've forgotten he described it, but we are close. Our eyes in the distance was the sounds of africa. There was a man. Playing. and I forget the name of this instrument. I know what you're talking here is a is a round with a yeah in a string and he's playing he's playing. This From it and he's coming is like We don't know where he's is just sounds like it's like a mile away. And slowly gets louder ass. He comes closer and closer and closer and he's. in the classroom now and we're being led in a meditation by doktor marimba une
she tells us to open our eyes and we are slowly open our eyes and there's this man And who look like he just got off the plane from africa. He didn't, of course, but he'd look like that. He looked like he as the mother land. You know, and he had this. Beautiful smile on his face and he was playing this instant and we were all just us or an emotion and What I realized about the the beauty of what was going on in document romania's classes is, that he was also taking us through, send colfer, she was also giving us these beautiful experiences that were in like this trauma in us through what She described as me. Your country, a dna where we could those generational curses.
We could literally dive into self and become physicians offsets. To then release self from the trauma of bee, a person who continues and perpetuates their trauma and so I'm saying all it had to say that all of that was supposed to happen All of that was necessary all of them. Was valuable, and perhaps if he is, is alluding to the moment of me being about tell my story in the fullness of where it is now and where became. Perhaps I wasn't ready yet you know The world had not experience the things that they have been experiencing and even when we, think about this beautiful that we have written this this time, that this book is being burst into.
It's like we didn't clam this. But it appears as if we did is an answer to. what's going on in america right now, this is a part of the change This is like the story of the marathon continuing the brick, of the generational curses happening in the pages of this book. And therefore in the minds of its readers.
Hey it's jonathan from good life project. If you are in your thirty's authorities with friends too busy to join you on a vacation, you have to check out flash back the only group travel brand for solo travellers, your age, imagine dining with sumo in japan, or basking on a private got in croatia. All with people like you visit flash pack dot com, slash podcast you save to under fifty dollars on your booking an offer only available until July, fifteenth yeah meet it. Some it is when you, when you, you read the book. The timing is unusual but it is just right. I mean if you met mention that you too have essentially conjure separate ways here. I can spend fifteen sixteen seventeen years. Probably loosely aware of each other. in writing careers away novelist use if you Continuous education and then speaking, all over the world and becoming an advocate,
for these things that you so that you experience personally for change that you furiously want to get behind, and you come back together in twenty seventeen reconnect. Intention say: well: let's co create, let's collaborate to create something specifically war. That audience I d be had been writing for for four years and that they can use it You had really been wanting to spend more time. Speaking with an we to an end, this ends up. As the book punching the air which is a window into its a novel, but it really is a window into everything that we ve been talking about its your loosely based on it on a character, a mile who has a similar experience, yo and and is accused and then his in prison in it and and his his emotional and cognitive and spiritual experiences, while is there and there is interesting as as were having this conversation now,
I'm getting the benefit of your deeper relationship and individual experiences, and Informing now, when I think about the book, I can see so many different things moving out of it. Even the the experience you just described about you hearing this industry the distance or we're having the professor invite you to it. Different things. You know that I can see. I wonder now you there's a car. The book in Monday, who is this poet slashed teacher like I'm starting to wonder well she's that actually, based on you know and I think I'm getting a pretty good idea and it's my fascination also. I just want to I'm curious about something. Structural. The book is powerful and speeches, so many of the things that are happening in the moment. They do want to pull a couple of specific topics to to explore with you, but the structure of the of that, you both shows that that was really powerful. It added not just to the content, but this
structure, which was he chose to write it as a novel inverse which I've actually never really seen before, and I was curious about that choice. Wealth when I ran into use happened when seventeen at a book festival, he was there to speak and He was also selling his book of poetry, I'm his published book of poetry. And, of course, I already knew his story. And I was shocked a little bit too. all that is self published this book of power. and still The world doesn't seem to have known that The level of debt, then, just at the importance of the central part, five jogger case of the ken burns. Documentary was out by I needed young people to know his particular story. It's very unique. The such a part, five story is unique and his particular worldview, adds another layer of perspective and just didn't think it was fear that he was
publishing when I was in the midst of and the young adult literature world a boom of social justice books books. Dressing police- brutality in different things that we're talking about right now I told them look people, Will pay you to tell your story you dont have to self published? This is an important story. And you know the rest is history and there are books there are, you know, lots of the full books written inverse, verse jason went reynolds, long lay down elizabetta girls. I write, the poet x in several books before that, but his poem comes with the other about five of his poems in jim the air and he you dont know which ones they arm seamlessly wove them in,
The foundation was already there. I was spoken word poetry in college. I use a row poems and while he was incarcerated, then I built this worry around his poetry, and I took you set world view all the things that he just mentioned. Now I it's sort of a perspective that I shaped into different poems just trying to kid. true what it means to be. Black boy in a classroom other school, the prince pipeline the thirteenth amendment. I convey them all in poetry through the lens of a sixteen year old boy, That's basically because of use s poems. Yet mean re reading it I had this weird experience of it. Reading from us from a narrative expense, yes as a novel, but you get, the rhythm and the beads and the flower of poetry, which
most poles you into a semi, translate stay why you're reading you know it's like when you go and see really powerful spoken word, your transported and there was something about this- where the story is powerful, the writing is powerful and the way that it was written in the verse, it, allowed you to move beyond the experience of just reading, And- and I wonder if that also- allows you to transfer into it and to understand the deeper ideas and ideals differently. It almost on a more felt level. We didn't want this to be just about. Prison industrial, complex or the criminal in justice system, as you said, likes to say, I wanted this to be about a child first and foremost, we step into The shoes, the skin, the body of a child we get into his soul, so this is didn't eat up through, him writing his poetry that their illustrations in the final copy you have to get the final
biggest either illustrations illustrations. Take it to another level. My are more tea, partia distance illustrations that really convey what the poems are trying to say, but we wanted. to get into the heart of this boy? When you speaking to you, sir you're getting you're, getting an understanding of the criminal justice system, but you're also getting us. of wisdom. That we don't always see from young people. He had about three or four, some of the other. Poems are low rough youssef, but- you were very powerful, poems that he wrote as a team and I was you know. I was of the understanding that he was incredibly aware self, aware and conscience of what was happening and why it was happening. Sometimes we think you know young people get into these situations because data
understand not to talk to the police, or they don't understand that. To you no say something without a lawyer prisoner without apparent present. Use of new all those things If you saw the movie his mother advocated for him, and he was the only one who did not speak on tape, a black child is not immune. Injustices by virtue of knowing what those injustices are. So a mile is incredibly self aware. He understands the school, the prison pipeline. He understand, the thirteenth amendment, but he's he'll trapped in Seoul what what is the antidote to wall of that it's not just awareness and it's not just people saying that we need to change it because there isn't a prison abolitionist in the story There is something that happens in the end, and I think that is his salvation in the way that it was youssef salvation. We don't here too much away hidden data now, of course,
both mentioned the timing of this book in out a book like this now beaks so much to the moment, wherein by clearly its written before at this particular moment. And yet everything it was you who, who first reference that members both of you that, in fact the protests, the awareness of violence, of the under deeper understanding of the prison industries complex the protest. The uprising that we are seeing now on a mass scale, they're worth flash it a very, very similar things and moments, especially in new york city back in the late in the late, eighties and and ninetys and now so, as we sit here. Having this conversation now and twenty twenty living, this moment where there is a global pandemic, where it feel those like there is an expansive wave of awakening
not as a state but as a process and protests uprising, Calls to define the police calls for communities to become much more involved in the way that we take her of each other. I'm is how both of you- spiriting this moment and if and how it feels different here. I think the difference of this moment, the specialist at this moment fields like We are ready To receive the sing of change. and I say that, because on a glow, the scale. The recognition of carcasses, to be important to be valuable. For the understanding of the things that discussed in his book like the put school the prison pipeline, the fact that our
it is a medium that allows people to be great, explore that in a way that is really powerful in this book. How all of these things plea in, the time right now like this. This is the time this is our time, right, there's never been a better time than now for us as a people. to stand in unison, right, there's this explanation of unity being more powerful atomic bomb and the reason why it's more powerful than an atomic bomb is because once you a unified. if you are A part of america. and you realize that the part that you are playing the role that your playing in america doesn't suit. You your I just speaking to you and allowing you to say, choose different,
Then when the oppressor says shoot kill mean, There's no one there to carry out those requests because then all of the people who are there become- like the spoke who sat by the door right We are very aware that it is more important for the the value system to be raised up. For me to get a paycheck, because what that benefit me to live, Lavishly one, neighbor is struggling right. I become food, then, for my neighbour. But if we collectively can raise everything up and say hold on. we need to able to have a system in place like I talk to people end
became very aware that even in the desire to want to go to the profession of policing, that shouldn't, be. should be a crime for you to become a police officer right. It should be. Realization, that you are the x apple That we see on the side of the cop parts throughout america, you represent to serve and protect not the inception of what that was to be right. So we know that, through as we go, and do the knowledge, as we would say, as youngsters, and we I went to the history to know the ledge of what it is. To get the knowledge of what it is to be a police officer, we realise that that was an out. of slavery being abolished.
And slavery needing to be continue by another name, And so we see the confederacy and we see all of these things happening and all of these things that have been happening, and we realize that part of the part that the role that people play is the spotlight has never been shown on good policing. The young girl, in Neither thirteen who stood up and ask me question. She's. I'm a cadet on thirteen. I want to become a cop. What advice can you give me my initial thought was tell her to run. Do not go into that profession. Do not be a part of that. It was quickly, stifled and and and and and arrested and killed by a better thought that thought was. I was talking to the future. and my responsibility at this time is to plan the seed
or rather The water for this that is already planted for the beautiful outgrowth to happen in this post. And this person then becomes a antidote I was gonna save virus, but of course she, the antidote, not the virus right to what it is to be a good cop, someone, I was there, she does her job. We ve all experience those of us who live in new york city, especially that on the side of the cop cars. They also add that three ideals, courtesy professionalism and respect, and so again what we get from that is, This young girl, who was thirteen years old at the time, becomes a police officer who understands that she is serving in protecting all though she is too true, people with courtesy, professionalism and respect? She will be the best officer.
that's the type of officers that we need, and so all of it is like this gumbo the best gumbo has the best ingredients whereas we are adding to the pot of ingredients of what we want. To imagine a world to be so that we become our ancestors while the stream, so that we become the answer the questions that we all had so there we finally get an opportunity to provide Will change. and resources for everyone, because when you give people, the opportunity to undo and that they matter psycho socially, they begin to move as if they matter they begins be a part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem. they realise that in doktor king speech, where he said when you realize what you purposes in life.
Do it as if god himself called you to do it at this very moment and instead of giving them grandiose six example of it The president of the united states, the person running the greater cooperation in america or the world. Perhaps he said It is your life to become a street sweeper sweep the streets like michelangelo, painted pictures, Leah tom price saying before the opera like beethoven, composed music sweep the streets and excellence to be the best that their wives and is because Of those things are needed, we need, somebody on all levels of life, what, in those levels of life, but more importantly, we need for their value to be recognised, and compensated as such even well. You know
listening to you, Sir fan us reminiscing about new york city I'm realizing that, if were older, let's say twenty years older, we'd, be reminiscing about new york city we'd have much more incidents to add to the ones that we already have and I do have older friends while we were taught by professor marimba Annie, who is I think she is in her early eighties now, if I'm not mistaken wow, it's very young, but to sit feed of elders and to listen to them recount there. experiences with dealing with racial injustice in the world and in this country. Start to wonder: will it change? Will it ever change and Sometimes I often ask my older friends: will: how has it become better? What's better and they do have. The list is just as long as the things that
have not changed. Just as many things have changed so right now- is to lean into the things that are different. I am so grateful that young people are talking about defending police, ah there's, also dismantling the police there. Abolishing the prison industrial complex. There is Some really radical ideas are making it to the forefront of our conversations. Collective conversations we used to talk about these things as college students in new york city in our clubs. never did. We think that it would be, the headline in the new york times I wrote word abolition. To punishing the air three years ago, not thinking that this would be part of the mainstream conversation and
I went back and forth between reform an abolition and wanted to make the money the character of radical teaching artists, who as big hopes for the young people there, He teaches so she's, not a certain tie kind of politician where she would ask for prison reform she's an artist so she's asking for abolition and said. Ok, I'm gonna go with that. That sounds radical, but let me just put it in there and now it's radical still we're talking about it you're the first step and some of us have a hard time trying to wrap our minds around what that would look like, but the way that things begin. The change is true start having those conversations, maybe Talking about abolition means, that there will be greater reform, we can meet in the middle, but the point is young people are talking
at these things and that's my job as a writer for young people, I listen to what Fifteen and sixteen year olds are talking about their home, this right. Now they don't what college is going to look like for them. They don't know the job market is going to look like for them. So they want to tear it all down. Why not it's working for us. It's not going to work for us there's a pandemic. What is the thirty percent the unemployment rate at right now, so! There is a sense of just like this is not working. This has never worked, does not for us now, and this will not work for us later. What can We build what's the new thing that we can build in its place: so. In that sense, a mall infringing the air is that kind of radical kid who still up in the system, but the that he pushes radical ideas is drew his art
again. It is what saves them in the end. I just gave it away. No, I didn't, but it is what ultimately saves them and We- How about you? I know we're at a time, but Youssef is an artist as well, and I am inspired by his illustrations, I saw his notebook. I saw the pants that he wore on the night of that fateful night in central park, was covered in illustrations and art, so Yet this is just as much a book about art as it is about Injustice in the prison industrial, complex, It's so interesting how Both of you came to art in different ways at different moments of your life, but it became central. for similar reasons, though, the circumstances at you move through are different and that that cause suffering and cause pain that you grappled with, were different: the engine, Turning to art, as both a form of expression, refuge and understanding.
with similar, nothing for so many of us. It's a powerful p. To go and the end. That story is really beautifully told in punching there as well and dumb and I do want to see. More of you. Cities are an illustration that anything that you can put out there like now. I'm really curious. Now, I'm among before to a certain extent, but am I never did. I think this feeling good place for us to come. Full circle in our conversation is well say, always end with the same question that I'd love to I invite each of you, too, are too. Respond to so in the car. next of of this than good life project? If I offer up the phrase to live a good life? What comes up well I think, to live a good life. for me would be too. live a life of value of worth of purpose,
You understand are Bela tee to. plant seeds of goodness in the future. That the shade of those treaties will be experience not by your own family alone, but also by community and by the world. Well, the idea of radical honesty comes to mind radical honesty, not in the way that it would hurt someone but radical empathetic, honesty I love it when people say I dont know or they say I don't understand us or I'm still working through it. I still have, a lot of room to grow. I think We could all stand to be radically honest with ourselves our family members and the people in our community to say this is what I This is what I dont want. This is what I understand. This is what I don't know. This is what I know
All those statements can come from. Our truly honest, radical place in our hearts. Both. Thank you. Thank you. So much jonathan.
the thank you so much for listening and thanks also to our fantastic sponsors who help make this show possible. You can check them out in the links we have included in today's show notes and while you're at it, if you've ever asked yourself. What should I do with my life, we have created a really cool online assessment that will help you discover the source code for the work that you're here to do. You can find it at spark, a type dotcom. That's s, p, a r K, e t, Y p e dot com or just click, the link in the shown us and, of course, if you haven't already done so, be sure to click on the subscribe button in your listening app. So you never miss an episode and then share share the love. If there's something that you've heard in this episode, that you would love to turn into a conversation, share it with people and have that conversation, because when ideas become conversations that lead to action, that's when real change takes hold, see you next time.
Transcript generated on 2023-06-23.