How can you restore years…hopes…dreams?
This is a question I pondered while watching Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series “When They See Us”, but it especially echoed in my heart while watching Oprah’s interview of the real life men of the Central Park 5 case, better known now as The Exonerated Five.
If you haven’t watched it, I encourage you to buckle up, anchor your heart and prepare for one of the most mind blowing, heart wrenching experiences of your life. Every one of your five senses will be awakened and disturbed. Then, watch Oprah interview the cast and the men in a one hour special also on Netflix.
In short, the series tells the story of five boys between the ages of 14-16 (Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam) who were accused and coerced into confessing to the beating and sexual assault of a white woman who was jogging in Central Park in April 1989. They were all found guilty and served between 7-13 years for this crime they did not commit. It wasn’t until 13 years later when the actual rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed to being the sole and only perpetrator of the crime, that the convictions were erased.
So, the real guy confessed and everyone gets their lives back! Right?
Yes the men were given $41 million to split between the five of them, but how can you put a price on having your youth and innocence stolen?
As I watched Oprah interview these five men I couldn’t help but think, “My God. They’re still little boys.” The weight, facial hair and deep voices simply served as a reminder of time and the expectation of what happens when the sun continues to rise and set and the days on the calendar go on and on. The world went on. We all continued living and left these men behind. Granted most of the men have now married and have children, but I couldn’t help but see flickers of scared little boys surface every once in awhile…
…deep voices that are quiet, almost cautious and mutter “yes ma’am”s…
…aged eyes that stare at the floor and make occasional contact with Oprah, Ava and the audience…
…big bodies with slumped shoulders that shake and fight to hold back tears.
How I wanted to hug each and every one of these men! In fact I even screamed at my tv screen for Oprah to hold them tighter when she greeted them.
These men have been robbed of one of the most precious gifts of life. How do we give it back? Do we hug them longer? Give them words of affirmation and encouragement? Pray for them? Create a space for them to feel physically and emotionally safe and heard?
Yes (and Ava does an AMAZING job at bringing restoration through her gift of storytelling), but even that doesn’t seem like enough.
To all the men, I wish you every good thing life has to offer. May you never again feel lost, betrayed, abandoned, scared, worthless or forgotten. I can’t put into words how sorry I am that this was done to you. If I am ever granted the gift of motherhood, especially to a boy, I will make sure to love, hug, kiss, and protect my children even harder because of you.
Lastly, my heart bleeds especially for these two men:
To Antron: More than anything I pray that before you leave this Earth (MANY, MANY years from now), that you find peace. Peace in your heart and mind, yes about what happened, but peace surrounding the destruction of your family and the bond between you and your father. I hate so much that this tragedy tore the two of you apart. You spoke about not forgiving him when speaking to Oprah, and I know it will only take time and divine intervention for any change to come of that. You and your father are both victims. I am so sorry you had to see your hero fall. To lose trust for the man who gave you life is one of the most heartbreaking experiences. He was your father by blood and title, but that day at the precinct he was also a boy who was being threatened to have everything he worked for be taken away from him. He did not choose the lie over you. He allowed and encouraged what he thought would save you.
To Korey: You are one of the bravest people to ever live. Like the other boys, you didn’t know what you were getting into, but you never folded or backed down in the face of fear, violence or the threat to your life. There is a warrior that lives inside of you. Lions are in awe of your courage. You are the hero and sacrificial lamb in this story. Had you paroled out, meaning you would’ve had to again admit to the crime, you would have never run into Matias. Would Matias had confessed if he hadn’t encountered you? If he hadn’t found God and felt conviction that you were serving time for his crime? Your physical presence in that hell of a system brought victory. May you lack NOTHING in life. I speak “beauty for ashes” over your life. May this be the theme of every breath you take from here on out.
The system is not broken. It was built to be this way. -Ava DuVernay