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Raymond Santana and Freddy Miyares attend Netflix'x FYSEE event for "When They See Us" at Netflix FYSEE At Raleigh Studios on June 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images
Raymond Santana and Freddy Miyares attend Netflix'x FYSEE event for "When They See Us" at Netflix FYSEE At Raleigh Studios on June 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images

The Afro-Latino Entrepreneur in the middle of the “Central Park Five”

Raymond Santana Jr. took his experience as a member of the “Central Park Five” and turned it into a clothing company.

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As a 14 year old, Raymond Santana Jr.’s entire life was decided for him whether he liked it or not. On a night leading into a holiday weekend from school, Santana and some friends were headed to a party at the Schomburg Plaza across from the northeast corner of Central Park in New York City. The year was 1989. That night would change the course of his life.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s newest Netflix series When They See Us is a dramatization of what happened next to Santana and four other teens, who did not know each other before that night, caught in Central Park, across the street from the party they were attending.

From that night on, they were no longer Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Korey Wise, Antron McCray or Yusef Salaam - they were the ‘Central Park Five.’ Marked and scapegoated by media coverage that stands as a textbook example of racist sensationalism.

The teens were implicated in the rape and assault of Trisha Meili, which occurred in Central Park, the same night the teens were arrested.

The case pending against them would be dubbed one of the most famous of the 1980s and resulted in all five receiving sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years in juvenile or adult detention centers. Beyond coerced confessions from lengthy interrogations, there was never anything linking the teens to the crime.

It is really the story of a how a city in fear was able to scapegoat five young boys and those, such as now President Donald Trump, who took full advantage of it to generate mass hysteria.

When They See Us is also a striking reminder of how easily a corrupt criminal justice system stole the lives of five children. Santana’s story is especially impactful because he left prison and found himself without options.

Despite getting a degree while in prison, Santana couldn’t find sustainable work once out and turned to dealing drugs. He was caught dealing cocaine and sent back to prison.

Four years into his second prison stint was when the real culprit of the 1989 rape and assault of Trisha Meili came to light. Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and murderer, confessed to the crime while locked up. The subsequent investigation exonerated Santana, along with the rest of the Central Park Five.

A year later in 2003, the five filed a federal lawsuit against New York City for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. It took the city 11 years to settle with the group for $41 million.

With newfound wealth, Santana could have done anything. But he put his money into a passion that was derailed at 14.

Before the ‘Central Park Five’, Raymond Santana Jr. was a regular kid growing up in New York City. He was the son of a African-American mother and Puerto Rican father, who both taught him to work for the good things in life. A 14-year-old Santana loved to draw clothing and comics, a passion he hoped to one day put towards designing clothes.

It was a dream that seemed lost forever under the weight of a pack of lies.

But with the help of his friend, Rasheed Young, Santana invested his settlement money to create his own clothing company, Park Madison NYC.

“It symbolized me getting something back,” Santana said in a podcast appearance from June 2018.

Park Madison NYC “constructs lifestyle collections for the rebellious and chic outcast who levels up through style,” per the company’s website. Its designs are aspirational and meant to empower those who wear them to achieve their dreams, much like Santana did.

The company’s Summer 2019 line up also corresponds with the release of DuVernay’s Netflix series about the Central Park Five — featuring two designs that draw influence from the event.

Santana has also used this season’s releases to give back to those currently in similar situations to the Central Park Five. A portion of the proceeds from one shirt are going towards The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions.

 

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