Chang W. Lee / The New York Times

Yusef Salaam outside of City Hall in New York in June of 2014.

February 4, 2020

Activist and Social Justice Leader Yusef Salaam to Speak at Cornell

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Thirty years ago, Yusef Salaam was convicted of a crime he did not commit. Along with four other teenage boys — known as the “Central Park Five” — Salaam was  falsely accused of committing rape and assault against a Central Park jogger.

Now an advocate against mass incarceration, Salaam will be talking to Cornell students on Feb. 17 at Sage Chapel. His talk is a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative lecture, held annually to remember the legacy of the civil rights leader with speakers who strive to fight for civil rights and social justice.

This talk comes after the success of the Netflix series When They See Us, directed by Ava Duvernay, who visited Cornell for 2018’s commencement ceremony. The Emmy-nominated series follows the journey of the five men, including Salaam, and the events following the false conviction.

Salaam was arrested at 15 years old, along with Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise. The group was wrongfully convicted in 1990 for beating and raping a woman who was jogging through Central Park — the five men were coerced to confess to the crimes.

Salaam spent six years in prison. For years, he and the four other men received public backlash, including from current President Donald Trump. Trump — who bought newspaper advertisements during the trial calling for the death penalty — still refuses to apologize for doing so.

These cases further exposed the faults of the incarceration system, as well as the racism that permeates it.

The five were exonerated in 2002, after Matias Reyes  confessed to the crime. Following the release of When They See Us, the falsely accused men more popularly took on the title of “The Exonerated Five” to highlight their innocence.

In 2014, the five men received a $40 million settlement from New York City to compensate for their time spent in the prison system.

Salaam’s talk will start at 7 p.m. with a conversation with Prof. Anna Haskins, sociology, followed by a question-and-answer session. The event is co-sponsored by Black Students United, the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.