On March 12, 2020, UBC Okanagan had the honour of welcoming Dr. Yusef Salaam, of the “Exonerated Five” or “Central Park Five”, who delivered a talk on police brutality, race and law, and the criminal justice system.
Yusef Salaam was one of the five teenage boys who was tried and convicted in the Central Park jogger case in 1989 after the group of boys – four black and one Latino – were traumatized into making false confessions.
In 2002, the sentences of all five men, including Yusef Salaam, were overturned when the unidentified DNA from the crime scene was finally linked to a man who was already serving life in prison for a series of different crimes.
The Central Park jogger case was one of the most frenzied cases in New York City’s crime history. In 2019, a four-part Netflix series titled When They See Us, was released based on the events surrounding this case. This series brutally and honestly depicts how people of colour are unfairly targeted in the criminal justice system.
Salaam has since used his platform to deliver lectures across America and spark important conversations surrounding the failings of the criminal justice system, legal protections for vulnerable juveniles, and fundamental human rights.
In addition to speaking about his experience of being wrongly convicted, he also shared many important life lessons. Salaam spoke about forgiveness and acceptance with remarkable wisdom and compassion. He also encouraged students to continue pursuing their studies as he has a strong value for education and even received his college degree during his time in prison.
The story of Yusef Salaam and the “Central Park Five” is one that is hard to fathom. Yusef Salaam is a true example of how persisting through hard times can lead to success and full life. Salaam touched the lives of many students during his evening at UBCO – it is an evening that many students will carry with them for a long time.