Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week

Theme: #NowIsTheTime / January 20-25, 2020

Keynote Speaker: Yusef Salaam, Jan. 20, 2 p.m. Fieldhouse Arena

In 1989 when Yusef Salaam was 15 years old, he was accused and convicted of attacking and raping a woman who was jogging in New York City's Central Park. Salaam was one of five teenagers wrongly convicted of the crime; they collectively became known as the Central Park Five.

In 2002, after the Central Park Five spent between seven and 13 years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned. A convicted murderer and rapist serving a life sentence confessed. The unidentified DNA in the Central Park Jogger case was matched with its owner, and the Central Park Five were fully exonerated.

Salaam will give a keynote presentation, "Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere," at 2 p.m. on January 20 in the Fieldhouse Arena. 

In 2012, documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter, Sarah Burns, released the award-winning film "The Central Park Five," which detailed the case against Salaam and the others. Ava DuVernay, acclaimed director, brought the story to Netflix in 2019 in "When They See Us."

Salaam has traveled all around the United States and the Caribbean to deliver influential lectures and facilitate insightful conversations as he continues to touch lives and raise important questions about race and class, the failings of the U.S. criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles and fundamental human rights. Since his release more than 20 years ago, Yusef has become a father, poet, activist and inspirational speaker. His most recent awards have included a Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama (2016), and an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary (2014). 


Yusef Salaam headshot

Yusef Salaam will be a keynote speaker on January 20, 2 p.m. in the Fieldhouse Arena, as GVSU kicks off its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week.

Keynote Speaker: Cedric Taylor, Jan. 22, 4:30 p.m. Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room

Cedric Taylor, associate professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, is the writer, director and co-producer of "Nor Any Drop to Drink: The Flint Water Crisis." The 2018 award-winning documentary has been screened nationally and internationally.

Taylor will give a keynote presentation January 22, at 4:30 p.m., in the Kirkhof Center, "A Dream Still Deferred: Environmental (In)Justice and the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

He will also lead a workshop, "Film As Activism: Documentary Film Making With Your Smartphone," from 3-4 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Pere Marquette Room. Taylor's workshop will cover the basics of how to plan, film, edit and upload films to YouTube and share them using social networks, using mobile phones with widely available computer software such as iMovie. Participants will also be acquainted with realities/challenges of documenting social justice issues, particularly with regard to marginalized communities.

Taylor is a public sociologist who employs film, visual media and storytelling to engage the wider community in conversations around racism and social justice. Born in Jamaica, Taylor is president of the Michigan Sociological Association. His teaching and research focus on racism and inequality, racial health disparities, immigrant health, and visual sociology.

headshot: Cedric Taylor

Cedric Taylor will lead a workshop on 'Film as Activism' and give a keynote presentation on January 22, 4:30 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center.


The theme of the 2020 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week is #NowIsTheTime. The phrase comes from King's 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream," delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In the speech, King asks for urgency in righting wrongs against Blacks from slavery to the Jim Crow era.

He said: "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children."