This Monday, nearly 60 people graduated from the Bronx Preparatory High School—including three from the “Central Park Five.”
According to the New York Times, now in their 40s, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana Jr. all received the diplomas they missed out on as teenagers when they were wrongly convicted and sent to prison for up to 13 years for a crime they did not commit.
“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,” Mr. Salaam said from the stage with his honorary degree in his hand.
“This is a blessing.”
While the three did receive their GED’s in prison, they admit that being able to participate in the pomp and circumstance was an “emotional” experience, especially given that they “never had a ceremony, and a piece of paper in the mail is not the same,” the Times noted.
So how did this act of kindness come about?
Apparently, Cassius Gil, the school’s assistant principal, set this all into motion when he had a conversation with Emmanuel George, the school’s executive director. Mr. Gil said the two wondered: “Did they ever get a high school diploma? We should give them a high school diploma.”
As we’ve written before, the five young men—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise —were accused and convicted of beating and raping 28-year-old Trisha Meili in New York City’s Central Park back in 1999. The youngest was 14 at the time of their arrest; the oldest was 16.
However, the teens always claimed that they were innocent and that the New York police department strong armed them into making incriminating statements against themselves and each other. Dubbed the “Central Park Five,” the group was later were exonerated in 2002 after career criminal Matias Reyes confessed to the heinous crime and DNA evidence backed up his claim.
A year later, the men, who had already served their sentences, filed civil lawsuits against the City of New York and the police offices and prosecutors who worked on their convictions. The five have since reached settlements with New York City and the state totaling nearly $45 million.
Congrats fellas! We wish you well!