MLK Jr. events to include lecture by man wrongfully convicted in Central Park Five case

AMES, Iowa — A variety of events on the Iowa State University campus and in Ames will celebrate and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Iowa State’s annual MLK Jr. Legacy Series begins with the MLK Jr. community birthday celebration 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17, both virtually on Facebook Live and the AmesTelevision YouTube channel as well as in-person at the Ames City Auditorium. 

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson, the Lora and Russ Talbot Endowed President and CEO of the ISU Alumni Association, will serve as the keynote speaker. The Ames Human Relations Commission will present its annual Humanitarian Award.

There are no classes and university offices are closed on the holiday, Monday, Jan. 17.

An ISU campanile carillon concert, “Let Freedom Ring,” will honor Dr. King. Carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam will play at 11:50 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19. Music will include hymns, spirituals and music inspired by Dr. King. 

Yusef Salaam

Yusef Salaam. Photo provided.

The MLK Jr. Legacy Series keynote this year will be delivered by Yusef Salaam, a prison reform activist who was wrongfully convicted in the 1989 “Central Park Five” case. The convocation, “Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, in the Memorial Union Great Hall. 

In 1989, a young woman was brutally attacked in New York City’s Central Park. Five boys — four black and one Latino — were convicted of the crime and became known collectively as “The Central Park Five.” Salaam was 15 years old at the time.

Their convictions were vacated and the men were exonerated in 2002 after DNA in the case was finally linked to a convicted murderer and serial rapist who confessed.

Since his release, Salaam has committed himself to advocating and educating people on the issues of false confessions, police brutality and misconduct, press ethics and bias, race and law, and the disparities in America’s criminal justice system.

Salaam was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2014, and received the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 from then-President Barack Obama. He serves on the board of the Innocence Project, and has released a Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” based on the true story of the Central Park Five. He has also authored a book about his experiences and philosophy of life, “Better, Not Bitter.”

Prior to Salaam’s lecture, the annual MLK Jr. Advancing One Community awards will be granted to ISU community members who are making Iowa State better while following the principles of Dr. King.

All events are free and open to the public. The community celebration is co-sponsored by the Ames branch of the NAACP; Ames Chamber of Commerce; Ames Human Relations Commission; Ames Police Department; Ames Public Library; Ames Community School District; Ames Water Plant; Body of Christ Church; City of Ames; Hasting, Gartin, & Boettger, LLP; Iowa State University Library; Rotary Club of Ames; Wayne and Edna Clinton family; United Way of Story County; and YWCA Ames-ISU. The legacy convocation keynote is co-sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Committee on Lectures, which is funded by Student Government.

Find more information about ISU lectures online or by calling 515-294-9934.