BLACKSBURG, Va. – On Wednesday night, members of the Central Park Five visited Virginia Tech for a community discussion. The group of men was wrongfully convicted of a rape in New York City, before eventually being freed. Their story has been back in the spotlight following a wildly popular Netflix series about their plight.
The theater at the Moss Arts Center overflowed on campus with people wanting to hear from the honored guests. The group shared personal testimonies, and also spoke about what it’s like living life on the outside in addition to their reignited fame.
The group took the stage before a group of those young and old, telling their story of being railroaded by the justice system when they were still kids.
“I think that gets lost in a world they lower the age and looked at young people and said we should treat them as adults,” Central Park Five member Yusef Salaam said.
They call themselves the exonerated five now, but for years they went by the Central Park Five. They were wrongfully convicted of a rape in New York’s Central Park in the 90s, sent to jail on a built-up case.
“For me, it was later on, at the age of 17, 18, 19 that I was fully able to understand through the help of education, what happened, and why it happened," member Raymond Santana said.
The real suspect in the case eventually confessed, but not before the men had their lives changed forever. On Wednesday night they shared their stories with the audience and took questions about what life has been like.
“30 years later and we’re still healing, this is a process that is not easy. So people might see us well off and we might look put together, but inside we’re still broken," Richardson said.
The recent attention online from the Netflix series has brought many new eyes to the case, including those of people who weren’t alive when the original case happened. Event attendee Britney Anderson said she knew of the story, but seeing them in person made it much more real.
“It’s probably affected their family, but them more so it affects how they look at situations, different things, but for them to have the power and come out and tell their story is impactful. I don’t know if I’d be able to talk about it,” Anderson said.
The event was the keystone for Virginia Tech’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr., and they hope they can continue to share lessons learned in the hopes of making a better future for all.
“And 2020 it’s a new decade, we still have to keep it moving, for success," Korey Wise said.
The events to commemorate King Jr. continue through next month.