Three of the men of color falsely accused and convicted as teens of raping a woman in New York City's Central Park in the late 1980s received honorary high school diplomas on Monday, the New York Times reported.
Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana Jr., who were among the members of the Central Park Five, walked in a graduation ceremony with nearly 60 teenagers who received diplomas from Bronx Preparatory High School. The men are in their 40s, but they wore blue graduation gowns and received the pomp and circumstance they were denied while they served time in prison 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,” Salaam said while on stage during the ceremony, according to the Times. “This is a blessing.”
Of Monday's ceremony, Santana said he was overwhelmed with emotion. "When we went to prison, this was taken away from us,” he told the Times. “It was something we never got to experience. You felt like you were being robbed, and we’ve finally found redemption.”
The Central Park Five became nationally known as a group of black and Latino teenagers in New York City accused in 1989 of raping a female jogger in Central Park. The teens were convicted and spent between seven and 13 years in prison, even after insisting that the incriminating statements that aided their convictions had been coerced by authorities.
Over a decade later, the five men were exonerated by DNA evidence that confirmed the rape had been committed by another man. New York City and the state of New York settled a civil lawsuit with the men for nearly $45 million.
Salaam, Richardson and Santana each received a GED and an associate degree while they were in prison, according to the Times.
Cassius Gil, the assistant principal at Bronx Preparatory High School, said Antron McCray and Kharey Wise, the members of the Central Park Five who were not present at Monday's graduation ceremony, will receive their honorary diplomas by mail.