Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week 2020

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 women who was jogging in New York City's Central Park. Salaam was one of five teenagers 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.

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, as GVSU kicks off its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week.