Exonerated ‘Central Park Five’ member addresses Ossining students on criminal justice
Ossining High School students were captivated by a special speaker Monday.
Dr. Yusef Salaam, one of the now "Exonerated Five," known previously as the "Central Park Five," spoke before hundreds of students during a special assembly at the school.
His mother, Sharonne Salaam, also spoke at the event.
Salaam, who was just elected last week as a New York City councilman, spoke about the infamous case in which he and four other Black and brown teens were wrongfully convicted in connection to the rape and assault of a white jogger in Central Park back in 1989.
Salaam served nearly seven years in prison and was finally exonerated of the crime in 2002.
He said he makes a point to speak to teens.
"I think about how they victimized us, and vilified us and how young we were," he said. "When I look at 13, 14, 15, 16 years old even 17, 18 years old I think these are still children."
His story is not only a cautionary tale of the failure of the criminal justice system, he said it’s inspired him to empower Black and brown youth.
"The biggest inspiration that I hope to inspire in our young people is that they are valuable," said Salaam. "I want them to know that the human potential they have, is still there, that they were born on purpose and have purpose."
Ossining school district's student population is 80% minority.
Students said Salaam's story struck a chord.
"I live in a constant realization that just because of the color of my skin I am more likely to get in trouble no matter what and likely to be punished for a smaller thing," said Gavin Thomas Walters, senior student at Ossining High School. "I thought it was really important to hear the voice of someone who looks like me."
The event was organized by social studies teacher Sam North, who teaches a criminal justice class.
"That experiential learning when your hearing from a person who actually went through it," North said. "It's much more meaningful than even watching these very powerful and important films."
North said later this week a group of his social studies students will be attending a criminal justice conference organized by the African American Men of Westchester at Sarah Lawrence College.