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Yusef Salaam‘s venture into politics has already paid off.

Back in 1989, Salaam was one of the five Black teens accused of raping a jogger in Central Park and wrongly convicted which led to spending years in jail.

But now he’s been exonerated since 2002 and his recent bid to win a New York City Council seat in Harlem has been victorious. He spoke on his victory at a campaign event in Harlem Tuesday night, praising his community for voting him in and addressing how far he’s come.

“This campaign has been about those who have been counted out,” Salaam said. “This campaign has been about those who have been forgotten. This campaign has been about our Harlem community who has been pushed into the margins of life and made to believe that they were supposed to be there.”

Like his previous life, Salaam’s journey in politics didn’t come without adversity, and he was up against two veteran politicians in 65-year-old Al Taylor and Inez Dickens, who was backed by NY Mayor Eric Adams. Salaam eeked out just under 51% of the vote after 95% percent of votes had been recorded, with Taylor trailing far behind for second place.

On his time in jail, Salaam recognized how terrible the prison system is but sees it as a positive to have experienced the injustice firsthand.

“Having to be kidnapped from my home as a 15-year-old child to be launched in the belly of the beast … I was gifted because I was able to see it for what it really was — a system that was trying to make me believe that I was my ancestors’ wildest nightmare,” Salaam told the press amid the celebration of the victorious bid. “But I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.”

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