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The harrowing story of the Central Park Five has been one of the United States’ most notorious, most debated, and most enduring examples of injustice in our criminal justice system. In 1989, five teenagers of color—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise—were arrested and later convicted of raping and assaulting Trisha Meili in New York City’s Central Park. Thirteen years later, in 2002, their convictions were vacated based on DNA evidence, and the men’s civil rights suit against New York City was settled in 2014 for $41 million.
The five men’s wrongful incarceration entered the public consciousness once again last May when Netflix released When They See Us, a four-part miniseries directed by Ava DuVernay. And on Saturday, February 22, they’re stepping into the spotlight again—this time in Denver, when three members of the now-Exonerated Five (Richardson, Santana, and Salaam) will take the stage at the Colorado Convention Center to discuss social injustice and systemic bias. The event is a collaboration between Mayor Michael Hancock’s office and New Thinkers, which aims to inspire leadership and progress around issues of the day through invite-only events.
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“We are committed to equity for every resident in every aspect of our civic lives, and I can’t think of a better way to inspire opportunities to think about more innovative ways to ensure we continually build an inclusive city than bringing this national conversation to our doorstep in Denver,” said Mayor Hancock in a press release about the event.
Keo Frazier, a brand experience strategist and vice president of communications and engagement at Emily Griffith Technical College, founded New Thinkers last year as a passion project. She organized four events in the group’s inaugural year. (Frazier was inspired to start the Denver group after attending two events through Summit, which hosts curated gatherings and an ideas festival.) Frazier curates New Thinkers’ invite list—often looping guests in via text—but recently added a membership program. Past events have included a private discussion with CRUSH Walls founder Robin Munro and a screening of the Sundance award-winning documentary Matanga / Maya / M.I.A. “They’re all centered around [this question of], ‘How are we being activists in our own right and what are we doing to change the world?'” Frazier says. “If I bring the right people together and spark the right ideas, then we can truly create something that will ultimately, hopefully, make a dent in how our world is in the future.”
The Exonerated Central Park Five conversation is the first New Thinkers’ affair to be open to the public. (Members will have access to a private VIP reception as well.) “I wanted to spark a conversation around creating real change in our biases, in our language, in our system, and how we do things in our nation,” Frazier says. “We’re taking something negative that occurred and turning it into a conversation about moving things forward.”
Before the trio takes the stage, local community members will share their own stories of social injustice and biases here in Colorado. Then, each of the three Exonerated Five will take 20 minutes to share his experience, after which the mayor will lead a panel discussion.
“It’s such a compelling story… It shocked the nation. I think it still has a reverberating effect,” Frazier says, but adds, “It could have been anyone. There are so many of these stories…. [I want to] make people aware that this happens on a more frequent basis than maybe we [know].”
If you go: While this free event is sold out, it’s just the first New Thinkers event of the year. Visit the website to sign up for future event alerts and to learn more about the $137 annual membership.