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Salaam of Central Park Five to speak at UNG during Black History Month

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Yusef Salaam, one of the "Central Park Five," will serve as UNG's keynote speaker for Black History Month.

Yusef Salaam, one of the "Central Park Five," will visit the University of North Georgia (UNG) as the keynote speaker for Black History Month. He will give a talk and answer questions at the event set for noon to 1:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in Robinson Ballroom of the Student Center on UNG's Gainesville Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Salaam was one of five teenagers — four black and one Latino — wrongly convicted after a young woman was brutally raped and left for dead in April 1989 in New York City's Central Park.

Salaam, who was 15 years old at the time of the incident, served almost seven years in prison before a convicted murderer and rapist serving a life sentence confessed, and the previously unidentified DNA in the case matched the new suspect. All of the Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002 after serving  between seven and 13 years in prison.

"You want fairness and equity for everyone and for students to see the importance of social justice," said Dr. Robert Robinson, director of Multicultural Student Affairs at UNG. "This is a great real-life example of what can go wrong in the justice system."

The men received a multimillion-dollar settlement from New York City in 2014.

The group's story has been recounted in the award-winning 2012 documentary "The Central Park Five," directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, as well as the 2019 Netflix miniseries "When They See Us," directed by Ava DuVernay. A screening of the documentary is set for 11 a.m. Feb. 25 in the MSA suite on the Dahlonega Campus.

"We want to highlight people who students can connect to," Robinson said. "This is a person students are talking about and issues that are important to them. Now they get an opportunity to hear this person speak and ask questions."

Since his release, Salaam has advocated and educated people on the issues of false confessions, race and law, and the disparities in America's criminal justice system. In 2014, Yusef was awarded an honorary doctorate, and in 2016 received the President's Lifetime Achievement Award from President Barack Obama. He was appointed to the board of the Innocence Project in 2018.

In addition to Salaam's speech and the documentary screening, other Black History Month events are planned on the Gainesville and Dahlonega campuses.

Those events also include a diversity panel titled "An Uneasy Truth: Being Black in America," set for noon Feb. 13 in the Hoag ABC Rooms on the Dahlonega Campus.

A session titled "The History of Wealth in the Black Community" will be held as a partnership among MSA, the Black Student Union and the Student Money Management Center at noon Feb. 26 in the Robinson Ballroom on the Gainesville Campus.

Black History Month events

Dahlonega Campus

  • Feb. 11: Documentary showing of "13th," Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) suite, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Feb. 11: Black Student Union Unity Game Night, MSA suite, 7-8:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 13: Diversity Panel, "An Uneasy Truth: Being Black in America," Hoag ABC Rooms, noon to 1 p.m.
  • Feb. 18: Movie screening of "Harriet" (MSA collaboration with Residence Hall Association), The Commons Suites, 7-9:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 20: A Different World: '90s Party (Black Student Union), location TBA, 8-11:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 25: Documentary screening of "The Central Park Five," MSA suite, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Gainesville Campus

  • Feb. 5: Dr. Yusef Salaam, keynote speaker, Robinson Ballroom, noon to 1:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 12: Black Student Union (BSU) cultural celebration — poetry, song and dance, Robinson Ballroom, noon to 1 p.m.
  • Feb. 19: Brazilian Carnaval (hosted by BSU, Latino Student Association, Nighthawks Entertainment), Robinson Ballroom, noon to 1 p.m.
  • Feb. 26: "The History of Wealth in the Black Community" (hosted by MSA, BSU, Student Money Management Center), Robinson Ballroom, noon to 1 p.m.
  • Feb. 28: MSA movie screening of "Harriet," Robinson Ballroom, noon to 2 p.m.

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