Raymond Santana Jr. is an advocate and activist for prison reform, as well as a fashion designer, producer, and media personality. On April 19, 1989, a young woman in the prime of her life was brutally raped and left for dead in one of New York City’s most iconic spaces, Central Park. Five teens from Harlem—four black and one Latino—were tried and convicted of the crime in one of the most frenzied cases in the city’s history. The woman was dubbed the “Central Park jogger” and the accused teens became known collectively as the “Central Park Five.” One of those boys was Santana Jr., who was just 14-years-old when his life was upended and changed forever.
In 2002, after the Central Park Five spent between seven and 13 years of their lives behind bars, the sentences of the boys—now men—were overturned. A convicted murderer and rapist serving a life sentence confessed. The unidentified DNA in the Central Park Jogger case (unlinked to any of the five) had finally met its owner, and the Central Park Five were fully exonerated.
Ten years later, documentarian Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon released the award-winning film, "The Central Park Five," which told of this travesty from the perspective of Raymond and his cohorts. In September 2014, the Central Park Five received a multi-million dollar settlement from the city of New York for its grievous injustice against them.
Santana Jr. lives in Georgia with his teenage daughter. In 2018, he started his own clothing company called Park Madison NYC. Among other shirts, jackets, and hats, the company offers a T-shirt that lists the names of the Central Park Five. Interestingly, it was actually a tweet from Raymond that inspired award-winning director Ava Duvernay to start working on "When They See Us."
"I was ready and I was willing to relive, to go through that pain again, to cry," he told The New York Times of working with Ava on the miniseries. "It's a sacrifice. You want to change the culture, you've got to be engaged. This is how we got engaged."
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