Syracuse University welcomes Kevin Richardson of the Exonerated Five

On the day before your arrest, what were your dreams? Oprah Winfrey posed this question to the five men now known as the Exonerated Five, wrongly convicted as young teenagers in the highly publicized Central Park jogger rape case. Kevin Richardson, who’d been just 14 at the time of his arrest, had an immediate answer: He’d dreamed of playing the trumpet at Syracuse University.

Kevin Richardson and others posing at reception.

On Sept. 8, Syracuse University’s black and Hispanic alumni welcomed Richardson into their fold at a reception held in his honor at the Community Folk Art Center, organized by the Office of Multicultural Advancement.  (Watch highlight video)

Richardson, a proclaimed Big East fan growing up, was presented with a personalized number 44 jersey to commemorate the “Orange spirit of determination” by Adrian Autry, Orange men’s basketball associate head coach and former player, and Herman Frazier, senior deputy athletics director, as well as a new trumpet from Ian Wudyka, district manager for Yamaha. On behalf of Syracuse University, Angela Morales-Patterson and Miko Horn from the Office of Multicultural Advancement presented Richardson with an award recognizing his “bravery, resilience, perseverance and community service in the fight for justice.”

The circular glass sculpture is intended to represent “full circle moments in life . . . symbolizing that aspirations aren’t lost, they are just repositioned at a different moment in time to create better opportunities for others who are fighting to accomplish their dreams,” said Horn.

But the pinnacle of the event was the announcement of the Our Time Has Come Kevin Richardson Scholarship, with a preference for supporting black and Hispanic students with unmet financial need.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Richardson, overcome with emotion, had to gather himself several times in making his remarks. “For my name to be connected to kids at SU means the world to me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I never thought I would be here,” Richardson said. “I’m part of this family now. . . My time has come.”

The reception was a fundraising event for the Kevin Richardson Scholarship, which was launched with a lead gift from Tara Brown Favors ’95, a member of the Office of Multicultural Advancement’s Alumni Advisory Council.

Alumni attending—who came from as far away as New York City, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.—universally cited being deeply impacted by the case, as well as the dramatization When They See Us by director Ava DuVernay on Netflix.

One of those was Rachel Vassel ’91, SU assistant vice president of multicultural advancement, who hails from the New York City area and vividly remembers the case as it happened. “That could have been one of my brothers,” she says. “We just want to adopt Kevin into our community of Orange men and women and have him be a part of what he missed.”

Richardson was one of five black and Hispanic teenagers arrested and charged with the brutal rape and beating of a 28-year-old white woman in Manhattan’s Central Park in April 1989, a case that flamed racial tensions across New York City and the United States. Despite a lack of forensic evidence, and their continued proclaimed innocence, the five teens were coerced into confessing and served between five and 12 years in juvenile detention or prison. After DNA evidence confirmed the confession of a serial rapist and murderer to the crime in 2002, they were released and their convictions vacated.

Richardson has propelled his harrowing experience into a career as an advocate for criminal justice reform. On Sept. 9, he shared his story with the wider Syracuse University community at a panel discussion, “Justice in America: A Discussion on the Exoneration of the Central Park Five,” that also included SU law professor Paula Johnson, co-founder of the Cold Case Justice Initiative, and Candice Carnage ’90, chief operating officer of the Bronx Defenders.

“This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” Richardson told the mostly student audience. “It touches my soul to know a scholarship in my name will help kids achieve a college education, which I didn’t get to do. To get to pay it forward to others is the best thing that could happen.”

Support the Kevin Richardson Scholarship