This post was originally published on Defender Network

Dr. Yusef Salaam, member of the “Exonerated Five,” award-winning motivational and transformational speaker, thought leader, trainer, and New York Times Best Selling author will serve as the featured speaker at the University of Houston’s 2023 Dr. MLK Jr. Commemorative Celebration.

“This is part of our annual MLK celebration and commemoration,” said Dr. Elwyn Lee, UH’s vice president for community relations and institutional access about the event sponsored by the UH Center for Diversity and Inclusion. “We put together a committee that meets late into the fall as students and staff. And we try to plan a series of activities that take place beginning about the middle of January and go pretty much through the end. The highlight each year, typically is what we call the Commemorative Celebration. And for that, we typically invite some speaker that we think will speak on an important subject and would be of interest to our target audience. We are trying to, this year in particular, involve, include and focus on our students, because we feel, of course, they’re our future and they need to be thinking deeply about some of the serious issues of the day.”

Sponsored by UH’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the event will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. in the UH Student Center South’s Houston Room. At 3:15 p.m., preceding the program will be a Call-to-Action Networking Hour with Greater Houston community organizations and registered student organizations. Before Salaam’s keynote address, attendees will be treated to the poetic stylings of Houston Poet Laureate, Outspoken Bean.

Salaam was one of five Black and Latinx teens wrongfully convicted in the 1989 “Central Park Jogger” case. Though the five were cleared of all charges and finally won their release after being imprisoned, several “law and order” advocates, including Donald Trump called for them to be placed back in jail and face the death penalty.

“Dr. Salaam will educate, first of all, by sharing with them what happened to him and how it happened. And he has reflected on this in his later life after being exonerated. And he has ideas about how we can make the criminal justice system better based on his experience and what he went through. And, we hope that will inspire people to want to do something about it. He’s young enough, students can, hopefully, see that this could happen to them. And we have definitely seen it’s happened to him, and it’s also happened to other people. If people get involved, change can happen,” said Lee.

The story of the “Exonerated Five” was introduced to a new generation via the 2019 miniseries “When They See Us,” created by award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

“I’m co-chair of the overall planning committee, and I always tell the committee we need to educate, and while we educate, we need to entertain people at different points, and then we need to inspire them. Those are the three things we need to keep as a focus. And, in this particular event, we hope we can, we can do all three,” added Lee.

To register for this free event, visit or email