“𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘢 𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘥 𝘰𝘧 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘧𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯, 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘦 𝘰𝘳 𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘰𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘲𝘶𝘦. 𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘴, 𝘪𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘷𝘪𝘷𝘦, 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘦𝘥, 𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵, 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺; 𝘵𝘰 𝘷𝘰𝘮𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘶𝘱.” ― 𝘑𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘴 𝘉𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘸𝘪𝘯
𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰 Readers, 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐬 𝐚 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮?
Over the last month, I had the chance to read Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam thanks to the kindness of Harper Collins and Karina @AFirePages. As an avid Ibi Zoboi fan and an admirer of the tenacity of the Exonerated Five, getting an ARC of this book was one of the highlights of my year.
Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam book follows the story of Amal, a sixteen-year-old Black artist, who is convicted of a crime of aggravated assault against a White boy. But, Amal’s real crime stems from being born Black.
According to the Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research “the U.S. currently houses the world’s largest prison population,” with Blacks having a conviction rate that’s “five times higher” than their White counterparts. And, thanks to the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker in 2005, which gave judges more discretion over sentencing and imposing harsher or more lenient sentences than the U.S. Sentencing Commissions guidelines called for, judges have now found it easier to punish BIPOC men, like Amal.
Thus, when readers see Amal claiming his innocence in court and being convicted to a harsh sentence at a young age, it hurts. As a minority reader, you will more than likely not only remember Dr. Yusef and the Exonerated Five’s case, but probably can also relate to Amal’s plight because you remember the a loved one or friend who’s also experienced harsh sentencing and lost years behind bars.
What I enjoyed most about this #OwnVoice novel in verse is that it is not only raw and real, but it feels honest. Amal is a character that I saw my brother, cousins, and nephews in. He is a boy who has high hopes, but gets painted as a monster by society instead of embraced for his art and potential.
The White educators and lawyers in his life masquerade as these Anti-racist figures and do-gooders, but when their feet are held to the fire, they act in their own self-interest.
Zoboi and Dr. Salaam’s book is an essential read, and I hope that you also pick it up and read it alongside Just Mercy by Bryan and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.