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Yusef Salaam of the exonerated Central Park Five to speak at W&M

  • Yusef Salaam
    Commemoration speaker:  Yusef Salaam has dedicated his life to advocacy and education, and he has spoken at universities and other institutions around the country.  Courtesy photo
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Editor's note: Registration for the event has reached capacity.

Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five, will speak at William & Mary’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration on Jan. 30. Television personality Stephanie Walters, lifestyle correspondent on “Hampton Roads Show” and “Virginia This Morning,” will moderate the discussion.

Free and open to the public, the commemoration is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Sadler Center’s Commonwealth Auditorium. People interested in attending must register for tickets online.

Salaam was among five boys — four African-American and one Latino — who were convicted of the assault, rape and attempted murder of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. When a serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crimes in 2002, the convictions of the five boys were overturned. Salaam, who was 15 at the time of the attack, had served nearly seven years.

Since his release, Salaam has dedicated his life to advocacy and education, and he has spoken at universities and other institutions around the country. In 2014, Salaam received an honorary doctorate from Anointed by God Ministries Alliance & Seminary. Two years later, he received the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama. He was appointed to the board of the Innocence Project in 2018.

The story of the Exonerated Five was told in the 2013 Ken and Sarah Burns documentary “The Central Park Five” and again in the 2019 Netflix series “When They See Us.”

“I am excited to have Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, formally known as the Central Park Five come to William & Mary,” said Shené V. Owens, associate director of the Center for Student Diversity. “After brainstorming with students on who we should bring to speak this year, it was a freshman, Alton Coston, who suggested that we bring one of the Exonerated Five.

“Growing up in New York and attending school in Manhattan, I remember hearing about the Central Park Five case. After watching the Netflix series ‘When They See Us,’ I grew more intrigued to learn more about the life of the men involved. I cannot wait to meet Dr. Salaam and hear his story.”

Sponsored by the W&M Center for Student Diversity and Office of Community Values & Restoration Practices, the commemoration aims to celebrate the legacy of King, who devoted his life to advocating for equality, human rights and justice, said Owens.

The Center for Student Diversity, Office of Community Engagement, Kappa Pi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the William & Mary chapter of NAACP, and the Black Student Organization will also honor King with a day of service and march on Jan. 25.