BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7)— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is still at the top of people’s minds as part of a week-long celebration at Virginia Tech.
Wednesday, students heard from a group of men who know a lot about the importance of justice and freedom.
The Central Park 5 were the focus of the trial for a woman who was brutally attacked in New York’s Central Park in 1989. At the time, they were only teenagers, but spent years in prison until they were exonerated in 2002.
Big crowds made their way out to hear these men speak. People filled up the Moss Arts Center auditorium, which spilled over into another room where the speech was livestreamed.
The Central Park 5, who now refer to themselves as the Exonerated Five, said they hope their story leaves an impression on the young minds who came out to watch.
“This is a process that is not easy, so people might see us well off. We might look well put together, but on the inside, we’re still broken,” said Kevin Richardson. “They dehumanized us, they belittled us. They assaulted our characters and our families and going through that it felt like we was in a nightmare that we didn’t wake up from.”
Over 30 years after it happened, these men said they’re still healing from being sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
“And the worst part about that is that they believed we had done that,” said Yusef Salaam. “They believed it even though nothing was matching.”
“Once we got our voices back, we knew we had to reach out to the youth because they are the future, and that’s how we can start to make some systematic change from within by being strategic and reaching out to the youth and being able to understand what happened to us,” said Raymond Santana.
The men attribute their story living on to the fact that Korey Wise stayed in prison the longest, but didn’t lose faith.
“Our story may not have ever been told had he not survived,” Salaam said. “A lot of this has to be attributed to Korey in terms of being that kind of person who something in him said keep on going.”
This brought tears to Wise’s eyes when the men spoke to reporters at the event.
“The system don’t want to see us alive, but we alive,” Wise said. “Legends of the CP5 to the Exonerated Five, we alive.”
Their message to the crowd was to remind them that anything is possible if you pursue the truth.
“We want to show people that we’ve been through everything and more, and if we can do it, others can, too,” Richardson said. “We are living proof of it so we must continue the legacy.”
With the more recent release of the Netflix film ‘When They See Us’—the men said it has helped to give new life to their story, and to continue spreading their message.
Four of the five members were at the event. Antron McCray is the fifth member of the Central Park 5.
Copyright 2020 WDBJ7. All rights reserved.