Syracuse University has honored Kevin Richardson, one of the five teenagers wrongly convicted of rape in New York City in 1989, with a scholarship in his name.
Richardson was honored at the university on September 8 at a benefit reception for the Our Time Has Come scholarship, which supports underserved students seeking an opportunity for higher education, the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Orange, reported. Richardson was also honored during the reception with the announcement of the Kevin Richardson Fund, which will be part of the Our Time Has Come program.
Richardson told WSTM that he always wanted to attend the university and get away from New York City.
“Living in New York City was somewhere — I wanted to be away from the city, and I wanted to come to upstate, and Syracuse was the perfect place for me,” Richardson told the news station.
Richardson and four other men — Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise — spent several years in prison for the rape of a woman who was jogging in Central Park 30 years ago, a crime they did not commit. Richardson was only 14-years-old when he was convicted. In 2002, all five men’s charges were vacated after a man named Matias Reyes confessed to the rape and DNA evidence was found linking him to the crime.
In a June interview with Oprah Winfrey, Richardson expressed a desire to attend Syracuse University. After watching the interview, political science major and senior Jalen Nash, a student from the university, started a petition to give Richardson an honorary degree, The Daily Orange reported. The petition garnered nearly 6,000 signatures, but the university has not indicated if Richardson will receive an honorary degree.
During the reception, held in partnership with Syracuse’s Office of Multicultural Advancement, Richardson received a customized “44” Syracuse basketball jersey, a Yamaha trumpet, and an award from the 2019-2020 recipients of the Our Time Has Come scholarship, according to The Daily Orange. One alumna from the class of 1995 also pledged $25,000 to a new scholarship in Richardson’s name.
“I don’t take anything for granted. I want to continue this legacy for years to come,” Richardson said in his speech, according to the publication. “If I’m not around, my name will still be here. My time has come.”
Rachel Vassel, the head of the multicultural advancement at the university, told WSTM the university wanted to include Richardson in some of the things he was unable to do because he was unable to attend the university.
“We just want to adopt him into our community of orange men and women and have him be a part of what he missed,” said Vassel.
The North Star reached out to the university for comment about honoring Richardson but did not hear back in time for publication. A day after the reception, Richardson met with College of Visual and Performing Arts’ students to have lunch with the 2019-2020 Our Time Has Come scholars. That night, he also led a discussion about “justice in the United States and his exoneration,” The Daily Orange reported.
In May, the four-part series titled When They See Us and directed by Ava DuVernay, was released, and it rekindled widespread interest in the case. Following the publicity surrounding the series, Elizabeth Lederer, the lead prosecutor in the case, resigned from her position as a lecturer at Columbia Law School. On June 11, the Black Law Students Association at Columbia called on the university to fire the teacher, but Lederer announced a day later she would not renew her teaching application at the law school.
The letter from the Black Law Students Association stated that there have been multiple attempts to remove Lederer from her teaching position and her biography on the school’s web page mentioned the 1989 case.
“The lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result of Lederer’s conduct,” the letter stated. “During the investigation, Lederer and her colleagues used harmful, racist tactics, including physical abuse and coercion, to force confessions from the five minors.”
“The Black Law Students Association demands that Columbia Law School explain any actions it has taken to hold Elizabeth Lederer accountable,” the letter continued. “We also ask that Columbia implement professionally-led, mandatory, anti-racist trainings for all educators at the law school, re-evaluate the hiring curriculum to prioritize staff that already brings cultural competencies into the classroom, and re-evaluate law school curriculums to prevent perpetuating racist practices.”
About the Author
Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.