Kevin Richardson is one of the five black and Hispanic men falsely accused of rape in 1989 — also known as the Central Park Five or the Exonerated Five. Sunday, Richardson’s dream to attend Syracuse University was honored.
His story reached the homes of many across the country and internationally, as it is one many can relate to within the justice system. Those five black and Hispanic men — then boys — were falsely accused of raping a white woman, then 28-year-old Trisha Meili, jogging through Central Park. After the real rapist came forward in 2002, the five were exonerated.
“People would often think I would be bitter, but I think bitterness would take you to the grave even faster,” Richardson said.
Raymond Santana, 14, Kevin Richardson, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and Kory Wise, 16; their story, portrayed in the Netflix miniseries "When They See Us," reignited calls for justice within the system.
"Honestly, I think I felt what a lot of people felt,” said Syracuse University student Jalen Nash in July. “I felt horrified. I felt disgusted, shocked. Even though this is something that happened over 20 years ago, seeing it so realistically, like seeing the children cry and getting beat up and getting yelled at, was a very vivid visual representation of what happened."
In a follow-up called "When They See Us Now," Oprah Winfrey sat down with the men. Richardson opened up about his plans to attend Syracuse University and play music prior to his arrest.
“I was fascinated with Syracuse and I wanted to be a part of it," Richardson said.
As a response, Nash took hopeful steps in July to fulfill Richardson's dream.
"That really spoke to me as an SU student, as someone who cares about social justice, who cares about political science," Nash said.
He then started a petition to get Richardson an honorary degree.
"Kevin Richardson is representative of a problem that happens to a lot of young black and Latin men throughout this country,” Nash said. “The inspiration was the broader message of what they represented and the broader community they represent in New York state, where there [are] a lot of prisons."
Syracuse University echoed that message of a community on Sunday.
"Our University is doing something really good by giving someone who didn't have the opportunity and who's a fan of our school to be a part of it now, we want to adopt him into our community," said Rachel Vassel, Multicultural Advancement vice president.
Richardson was presented with a basketball jersey, a Yamaha trumpet, and a ceramic statue. He was moved to tears to hear a scholarship had been created in his name.
“To embrace me and bring me to the university, I didn't think I’d ever make it here," Richardson said.
Now through his namesake, Richardson will help others do what was taken from him. As for Nash, in July his petition had 5,000 signatures. That number kept climbing to a close 6,000 on Sunday, September 8, as of 9 p.m.
"The excitement people have behind it and the passion people have behind it is very surprising for me because I don't feel like I'm the only person carrying it,” Nash said in July. “I feel like there are 5,000 other people who are passionate on the issue as I am. I hope that, in the future, we will have people and leaders who are cognizant of these discrepancies and really fight to change them.”
At the time of the accusation against the Exonerated Five, President Donald Trump paid for full-page advertisements in New York newspapers, asking for the death penalty.