Pop Up Guest Exonerated Central Park Five Member Korey Wise Brings His Message to Project H.O.O.D. Audience
In 1989, hip hop had taken hold of the streets and Korey Wise and Yusef Salaam were among thousands of youth who fell in love with style. Harlem was alive with music and dance and before the internet, teenagers spent most of their free time outside. Korey, Yusef, and three other boys would be forever changed when the police began rounding up black boys in Harlem for questioning in the rape of a jogger in Central Park.
The night of the rape, a large group of boys had been in the park “wilding” and Yusef was on the list of boys to be questioned. Korey was with Yusef when the police approached and then accompanied his friend to the police station for further questioning.
In those days, it was not customary to leave your friend with anyone until it was time to go home and Korey did not want to leave Yusef without his parents. This fateful decision led to the police manipulating Korey into giving a false confession to the rape and he was later sentenced as an adult. Being 16 years old and the oldest of all the boys, Korey went on to serve over twelve years in adult prisons before Matias Reyes confessed to the crime. His sentence was overturned in 2002 after years of mental and physical abuse endured in prison. His entire teenage and young adult years were lost.
“Better late than never,” said Korey.
After a decade long fight against the city of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress, the lawsuit was finally settled for $41 million. Korey, having suffered the longest and the most, received the largest portion of the settlement: $12.2 million.
On Thursday, July 25, 2019, Korey visited Project H.O.O.D. after the audience watched part one of Ava Duvernay’s Netflix series When They See Us. Depicted in the film by Jharrel Jerome, Korey’s story is the most heart wrenching. Of Jerome’s performance he says, “He spiritually embodied me, it blew me away. I love my baby boy...he performed my 13 years through hell. The belly of the beast is hell. It’s like being in a sewer; wrestling with rats, the smell, feces…”
He implored the young men and women of Project H.O.O.D. to, “Decide what is important. The system or the streets. The system doesn’t care about you. Rehabilitate yourself the best way you know how. Maintain your responsibilities, take care of your home. If you don’t have one, get one. If you don’t have a home, you’re looking to get locked up.”
The next day, July 26, 2019 was Korey’s birthday and his visit was made possible by Pastor Carlton Lynch of Benton Harbor, MI. Pastor Lynch was Pastor Corey B. Brooks’ first mentee and Korey had visited Lynch’s church the day before.
After taking questions from the audience, Korey graciously stayed longer to take scores of pictures with the attendees. He received this inspired painting by Project H.O.O.D. artist, Skillz.