Three-fifths of the Central Park Five, or “brothers through fire,” if you let Yusef Salaam tell it, were venerated with honorary diplomas from Bronx Preparatory High School on Monday (June 26).
The five men that make up the C.P. Five are Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Kharey Wise. In 1989, they were found guilty of the brutal rape of a woman jogging in the park when they were all teenagers, ranging from 14-16 years old. Calling out the fallacies of their interrogation, admitting they were coerced to make incriminating statements, the black and Latino teens all refused a plea bargain and were sentenced to seven to 13 years in prison.
They got a taste of freedom a few years earlier than the 13-year maximum they received. Over a decade after their conviction, all men were exonerated and the true assailant, Matias Reyes, admitted his guilt with a DNA evidence confirmation.
How did they end up receiving diplomas from Bronx Prep? It was a mixture of a government class teacher, students’ demands and the assistant principal.
Educator Marielle Colucci uses the documentary, The Central Park Five, as a “tool to teach students about the justice system.”
As Ms. Colucci was providing an intro for Richardson’s discussion with her class, per the students’ demand, she detailed to the New York Times: “The most important thing for me as a teacher is that they leave here knowing their rights and what they actually mean, and there is no one better to speak to that than these guys.”
After this specific class got to wrap up with Richardson face-to-face, the assistant principal, Cassius Gil, questioned “Did they ever get a high school diploma? We should give them a high school diploma.”
Although the three men in attendance, Richardson, Salaam, and Santana Jr., had already earned G.E.D.’s and associate degrees while in prison, it was still an emotional moment for them.
Santana, Jr. attested: “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,” labeling the ceremony as a “blessing.”
Gil spoke half to the official graduating class and half to the small, honorary one: “In light of what is going on in our nation today, in our cities, in our prisons, on our roadways, in our courts and in our highest offices of administration, the Bronx Prep graduation class of 2017 want to promise you some important things. We promise not to take one moment of our free lives for granted. We will educate ourselves so that we stand for something larger rather than to fall for sensationalism, lies and injustice. We will stay woke.”
Although McCray and Wise couldn’t be in attendance, they will be receiving their diplomas by mail.