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FIU Honors The Life Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At Breakfast Celebration With Yusef Salaam

Students and faculty stood up and clapped as keynote speaker Yusef Salaam, one of the members of the exonerated “Central Park Five,” walked on stage at the Graham Center Ballrooms at Florida International University. 

“Right now we are on the cusp of everything that Dr. King talked about in the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech,” said Salaam, the keynote speaker at the 29th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Breakfast.

He visited FIU to share his story with over 500 students and faculty. The breakfast event launches the university’s month-long events that honor the memory King’s dedication to equality and justice. This year’s event theme is “Advocating for Liberty and Justice for All.” 

Credit Courtesy of Florida International University
Yusef Salaam, one of the members of the exonerated Central Park Five, gives a speech on Friday, Jan.17, 2020 at Florida International University.

Salaam, a criminal justice reform activist, was one of five men — four black and one Latino — who were falsely accused in the 1989 rape of a young woman jogging in New York City’s Central Park. He served seven years in juvenile detention and prison before being released on parole in 1996. 

The men, also known as “The Central Park Five” were finally exonerated of the crime after a convicted murderer and serial rapist confessed to the crime in 2002.

“They tried to take our ability to dream,” Salaam said. 

At the FIU event, Salaam spoke about his wrongful conviction, his mother’s support through the process and where he found strength. 

“They tried to take our ability for us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were born on purpose,” Salaam said.

After the breakfast, students got in line outside the ballroom for a meet and greet with Salaam. 

“It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it,” said Niles Clark, 20, an FIU criminal justice student. “And him saying that really enforces that idea within my brain.”

Clark called Salaam’s speech an out-of-body experience. He wants to be a police officer and change the perception of cops. 

Sherline Shery, 27, a research student in the African and African Studies Diaspora program at FIU also waited in line. She and her three other friends were excited to meet Salaam. 

“I felt inspired to make sure that what I do with my work and my research finds a way to impact others and to always find the positive light in every situation,” she said. Shery wants a career in education.

Since his release, Salaam has committed himself to advocating and educating people on the issues of false confessions. He’s on the board of the Innocence Project, where he brings to light conversations around police brutality and the disparities in America’s criminal justice system. 

You can find more information about Florida International University month-long series of events honoring Dr. King here.

Credit Alejandra Martinez / WLRN
Yusef Salaam, right, one of the members of the exonerated Central Park Five, meets students at Florida International University.