Advance Notice: Briefs

Yusef Salaam of the ‘Central Park Five’ headlines MSU’s ‘Slavery to Freedom’ lectures

By: - February 2, 2022 8:46 am

Yusef Salaam | Photo via Michigan State University

When Yusef Salaam — who will be speaking as part of Michigan State’s upcoming “Slavery to Freedom” lecture series — was 15, he and four other Black and Latino boys were wrongfully convicted for sexually assaulting a female jogger in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. 

The boys, all between 14 and 16, went on to become known as the “Central Park Five,” and, despite no DNA evidence nor eyewitnesses and coerced confessions, served years in prison for a crime they never committed.

Michigan State University | Susan J. Demas

The actual rapist confessed in 2002, and, after DNA evidence corroborated his story, the convictions of the five wrongly incarcerated individuals — Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise — were vacated and they went on to win a $41 million civil lawsuit against the city. (Former President Donald Trump also played a role in the media frenzy surrounding the case, and in 1989 the then-New York real estate developer took out full-page ads calling for the death penalty to be reestablished.)

Since leaving prison, Salaam — who has been profiled in Ken Burns’ “The Central Park Five” documentary and Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” Netflix series — has traveled the country to educate people on false confessions, police brutality, press ethics and bias, race and law, and the issues plaguing the United States’ criminal justice system. 

At 5 p.m. Thursday, he will bring his story to Michigan State University. 

Salaam’s talk, which is free and open to the public, will be the first lecture in the school’s 22nd annual “Slavery to Freedom” series. Held each year in commemoration of Black History Month, the series is meant to be a community dialogue around the “history, heritage, struggles, and triumphs of Blacks, Africans and African Americans,” according to an MSU press release. 

“The hope is that attendees will engage with one another as well as with their outside networks so the event’s conversations spread throughout the community,” Marita Gilbert, the college’s associate dean of diversity and campus inclusion, said in a prepared statement.

The series will feature three online lectures, all of which are free and open to the community:

For more information about the  lecture series, visit MSU’s “Slavery to Freedom” page.


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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.