Three of the Central Park Five recently received honorary degrees and were given the opportunity to celebrate their high school graduation.
In a report from the New York Times, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana Jr., all in their 40s, received their honorary diplomas in caps and gowns alongside nearly 60 teenagers from the Bronx Preparatory High School earlier this week.
“Even though we were not able to go back and right the wrong of not getting our high school diplomas outside, here we are being honored in such a way in front of our family and friends,” Salaam reportedly said from the stage. “This is a blessing.”
Salaam was 15 years-old while Richardson and Santana were 14 years-old when they were wrongly convicted for the brutal rape of Trisha Meili in 1989. The three teens, along with Antron McCray and Korey Wise, spent from seven to 13 years for a crime they never committed, only to be exonerated over a decade later after DNA evidence confirmed that Matias Reyes acted in the assault alone.
Salaam, Richardson, and Santana receiving a high school graduation celebration stemmed from Bronx Prep teacher Marielle Colucci, who showed her students the documentary The Central Park Five to teach them about the justice system in America and how it criminalizes people of color. After watching the film Colucci’s students asked if they could meet the men, with Richardson obliging and speaking to the class.
From there, Bronx Prep assistant principle Cassius Gil spoke with the school’s executive director Emmanuel George about a graduation celebration for the men after Richardson visited.
“It’s kind of emotional,” Santana said at the ceremony. “When we went to prison, this was taken away from us…it was something we never got to experience. You felt like you were being robbed, and we’ve finally found redemption.”