Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam had their childhoods ripped from them after being falsely accused of rape in 1989. Thirty years later, the men known as the Central Park Five have earned a new title: The Exonerated Five.
With Ava DuVernay’s directed Netflix series fresh in people’s minds, the now middle-aged men –who had their sentences vacated after the real rapist confessed–have merited empathy and an outpouring of love from many.
On Sunday night (June 23) they took to the stage at 19th annual BET Awards and earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
The men were on hand to introduce singer-songwriter H.E.R. Yet, before the Grammy-Award winner performed, they spoke about how their worlds collided three decades prior.
“We are all on an individual journey in life. We don’t know where our journeys will take us or how they will collide with others,” the men said. “I didn’t know that one day would bond me to these men for the rest of our lives. But I know that in telling our truth, our lives have been changed forever. Your truth is the foundation your legacy will be built upon. Your truth will be the memories people keep long after you’re gone.”
On May 31st, Netflix premiered When They See Us. The four-part series depicted the lives of all five boys prior to being arrested, illegally interrogated, tried and convicted of the beating and rape of a white female Central Park jogger. Most of the men served seven years in prison. Wise, who was 16 at the time, was sent to Rikers Island and served 14 grueling years behind bars.
In 2001, Matias Reyes confessed to the rape, which resulted in Wise’s release and the rest of the group’s sentence being vacated. In 2014, the men were awarded $41 million from New York City, however, a public apology was never issued.
Watch The Exonerated Five speak at the 2019 BET Awards in the video above.