On Thursday, November 4, Kevin Richardson, one of the members of the Central Park Five, visited the Lovett school. The Central Park Five were five young African American and Hispanic teenage boys who were falsely convicted of the attempted murder, rape, and assault of a young white woman, Trisha Meili.
These allegations completely turned their lives upside down. Kevin Richardson went to a youth correctional facility for 7 years from the ages of 14 to 21, and even after his exoneration, the world never looked at him the same.
The Lovett community had the honor to hear him speak in front of the high school during an assembly, and then also have a more private conversation with the student diversity leadership council (SDLC) and the African American affinity group.
In the assembly, Mr. Richardson summarized his experience from first being accused to being exonerated. He started his story by saying, “My friend told me don’t go” to the park that night. The crowd could see the regret on Mr. Richardson's face as he talked about the gut feeling of danger he had before the events that lead to the accusations. Throughout the assembly, the crowd constantly heard how Mr. Richardson had been treated unjustly.
“Don’t run or I’ll blow your head off!” said one of the police officers.
Mr. Richardson said he had no memory after hearing those words, and he woke up in the police station where he was in custody and, for the first time, heard about the crime that had happened that night. In a room alone, a minor with no guardian or counsel, Mr.Richardson was interrogated, fearing for his life as he heard his friend next door being tormented and abused by the police.
“It felt like a nightmare I could not wake up from,” he exclaimed. He said he felt helpless and alone when the powerful men yelled at him trying to get him to confess to a crime he did not commit. Although this was a completely different time period this unjust situation reminded him of his ancestors.
“The police handcuffs felt like slavery chains,” he said.
With all the commotion happening inside the police station, hell was going on outside. Mr. Richardson and his friends were completely demeaned by the media before they were even found guilty. The media called them “wolf packs, urban terrorists, and animals.” These completely inhuman words were thrown at teenagers without a second thought.
Mr. Richardson talked about his time in a youth correctional facility. “Going to prison for a sexual assault offense it the worst,” he said. He reflected to the crowd that he was forced to grow up faster and he was challenged physically but not mentally. He said his mother was his biggest supporter and she reminded him, “The truth will come out. Keep your head high.”
I spoke with a fellow peer, freshman Alaysia Georges, who said she was inspired after hearing Mr. Richardson speak. “Hearing his optimism during such a difficult time truly encouraged me to be more resilient.” She said she couldn't imagine enduring what he went through, and she felt very privileged to get to hear him first hand speak about his experience. “He taught me to stay true to who you are and to never stop fighting for yourself.”
After the assembly, Mr. Richardson visited with the African American affinity group and the SDLC. During this meeting, he answered specific questions and had more of a one on one conversation.
One student asked Mr. Richardson whether he felt resentment towards the man who did commit the crime. Mr. Richardson's response was that yes, he sometimes did, but he is grateful that he finally admitted he was the one who committed the crime. Another question that really stood out to me was when someone asked, “Did you receive any apologies from the police officers who prosecuted you?” Mr. Richardson replied, “They never apologize.”
I was nervous at first, but I was able to get one of my own questions answered. After reading up on recent things Mr. Richardson has been doing, I learned he played a major role in criminal justice reform. So I asked him for the top 3 reforms he would push for. “Videotaping interrogations, accountability, and equal rights,” he said. He went on to talk about another reform he is sponsoring, but it is not yet out to the public yet. He said to stay tuned for when it is out.
Mr. Richardson was very welcoming to the crowd and spoke about the realities of being African American in America and how to navigate through your teenage years. It was a very different atmosphere having Mr. Richardson talk specifically to some of the African American students. Personally, I felt more of a connection and reflected on what he said more deeply.
Mr. Richardson also spoke more about his relationship with the other Central Park Exonerated Five, referring to them as the “band of brothers.” None of them plans to stay silent. “They woke up sleeping giants,” he said, “so we are here now.”