The Central Park Five received a standing ovation at the 2019 BET Awards ceremony after delivering a message about fighting for truth even when there is injustice in the judicial system.

BET Awards host Regina Hall introduced Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Kevin Richardson as  the “exonerated five,” a term referencing their release in 2002 after serving sentences that varied from six to 13 years. McCray wore a T-shirt with the Central Park Five’s names inscribed and Santana Jr.wore one displaying his 1989 mugshot. 

They collectively spoke of their journeys that bonded them to each other for the rest of their lives. 

“I didn’t know that one day would bond me to these men for the rest of our lives,” they said. “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.”

Thirty years ago in New York City, the group of Black male teenagers were wrongfully accused and convicted of attacking and raping a white woman jogging in Central Park. Ava DuVernay visually depicts their arrests, convictions and case fallout  in a four-part Netflix series, “When They See Us.”

Charges were dropped after new DNA evidence proved their innocence and a confession was made by serial rapist and murderer Matias Reyes. In 2014, the Central Park Five were awarded $41 million from the city. 

As we work to highlight the stories of those that are marginalized, it is critical to understand that discrimination occurs in all forms and leads to not only economic and social  deprivation, but also jeopardizes basic freedoms that all should be able to enjoy. Working towards a more inclusive nation means remembering stories like the Central Park Five that cast a light into the inner-workings of cases that fall through the cracks in the judicial system.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should apply to all populations in America. The National Diversity Council recognizes the power in the stories of those that have been marginalized and will continue to advocate for everyone to have a seat at the table. 

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