MLK Lecture to feature Yusef Salaam of ‘The Exonerated Five’

The 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Lecture at Cornell, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. in Sage Chapel, will feature a conversation with criminal justice activist Yusef Salaam.

Free and open to the public, the annual event brings together the Cornell and Ithaca communities with a series of events honoring the service, activism and legacy of King.

Yusef Salaam

A Q&A will follow the conversation between Salaam and Anna Haskins, assistant professor of sociology.

Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise were all wrongfully convicted in 1990 in the widely publicized Central Park jogger case. Then teenagers, they would be known collectively for more than two decades as “The Central Park Five.”

Salaam, who was 15 when he was arrested in New York City in April 1989, spent more than six years in jail. All five convictions were set aside and voided in 2002 by the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Their story was the subject of “The Central Park Five,” a Peabody Award-winning documentary made in 2012 by filmmaker Ken Burns, and the 2019 Netflix dramatic miniseries “When They See Us,” directed by Ava DuVernay.

Now as one of “The Exonerated Five,” Salaam has committed himself to educating the public on issues of mass incarceration, police brutality and misconduct, and the disparities in America’s criminal justice system, particularly for young men of color.

“Each year, to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the MLK committee selects a speaker who continues the work of advocating and fighting for civil rights and social justice,” said Marla Love, senior associate dean of students for diversity and equity. “This year, Yahya Abdul-Basser ’20, a student leader who serves as president of Cornell’s Muslim Educational and Cultural Association, political action chair for Black Students United and social justice chair of the Pan-African Students Association, expressed interest in bringing Salaam to campus.”

Abdul-Basser “had been in contact with Yusef’s agency and was eager for students to learn about The Exonerated Five, the injustices that led them to be falsely imprisoned, and the ways in which, under unfortunate circumstances, they maintained hope to fight, and to not let the situation define their stories. Today, they continue to seek justice for others.”

Salaam also will participate in a community event and a “fireside chat” with students Feb. 17.

Invited members of the Ithaca and Cornell communities will interact with Salaam at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and discuss “how the community can move forward on the issues our speaker is committed to educating audiences about – criminal justice reform, prison reform, media bias and police misconduct,” Love said. 

The chat, at 4 p.m. in the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (Suite 200, Computing and Communications Center), is an opportunity for students to engage with Salaam in informal conversation.

The commemorative lecture at Cornell is presented by the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives. Event co-sponsors include Black Students United, the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

Media Contact

Abby Butler