Kevin Richardson during his African American History Month appearance at the UofM. (Photo: Liaudwin Seaberry)

“They wanted me to shut up and dribble, but I kept going.”

Kevin Richardson, a member of the Central Park 5, was speaking to an audience at the University of Memphis University Center Thursday evening. The event was held by the University of Memphis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Richardson, who famously along with four  other individuals, Antron McCray, Korey Wise (then known as Kharey), Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana were arrested and charged with the assault and rape of Trisha Melli in 1989 in New York City’s Central Park.

Richardson and his co-defendants were convicted of the charges and sentenced to various prison sentences. Richardson, who was 14 when he was arrested, served seven years in prison. Richardson, was 23 years of age when he was released, missing the joys and trials that come with being a teenager.

However, in 2002, sufficient evidence surfaced that revealed the Central Park 5 did not commit the rape and assault on Melli. Matias Reyes eventually confessed to committing the assault.

The men had their sentences vacated in December 2002.

Their plights were documented in an awarded winning four-episode Netflix docu-drama “When They See Us,” co-written and directed by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Ava DuVernay.

Eighteen years later, Richardson, who now helps free innocent individuals from the prison system, still carries the scars from his time behind bars with him.

“As I travel and go various places to talk about my experiences, I am still in the healing process,” Richardson said. “It has been almost two decades, but I still often reflect on everything that looks nice.”

Richardson urged the audience to make sure they do not focus on the negativity of social media and injustices of society. He credits his faith for helping him get through the tough times of prison.

“I try not to force my religion upon anyone, and I respect all religions,” Richardson said. “God was able to get me through the difficult times, even when I started to lose faith in him. I kept thinking, ‘God you know we did not commit these crimes, so why are we here?’”

Despite Richardson missing a large amount of his teen years, he refused to succumb to bitterness, instead making a vow to change the system that betrayed him and his four friends.

“We knew we had nothing to do with the crime, and we felt we had to stand for what we believed in,” Richardson said passionately. “In the documentary “When They See Us,” it shows details of our ordeal and does a great job of capturing exactly what us five had to go through.”

Despite Richardson, McCray, Wise, Salaa, and Santana receiving a settlement totaling almost $45 million dollars, money never served as a motivator in the movement to provide and promote social change, according to Richardson.

“I just want people to know that they have a purpose in life,” Richardson said. “You may not see it right now, but eventually you will see it one day.”