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“Central Park Five” director and defendants slated to lead discussion after screening

Yusef Salaam is escorted by police. Photo courtesy IFC Films
TimesLedger Newspapers

A film documenting a painful episode of New York City’s past will offer a chance for conversation and perhaps some healing this week in St. Albans. The community organization Our Village Giving Circle, along with St. Albans Congregational Church and Council Member Leroy Comrie will be presenting a screening and discussion of the documentary “The Central Park Five” at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center at 172-17 Linden Boulevard this Thursday at 7 p.m.

The film, directed by celebrated documentarian Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns (on whose book it is based), follows the 1989 arrest of five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem for the brutal beating and rape of a white woman jogger in Central Park. It sparked a media frenzy and was dubbed “the crime of the century” by New York Mayor Ed Koch. The five suspects were soon convicted and each served from six to 13 years in prison before a serial rapist confessed to the crime and ultimately exonerated the five men.

The organizers of the screening expect that the issues of prejudice, injustice, and media sensationalism raised by the film will present an opportunity for a conversation on the New York City community’s past and future.

“We wanted to do something that would start a dialogue and an understanding of how this was where we were, this is where we are now, and where do we want to go?” says Loleta Nicholson, founder of Our Village Giving Circle, a newly created organization serving the southeast Jamaica area.

Sarah Burns is scheduled to appear as well as the defendants themselves for a post-screening panel discussion and Q&A. It will be moderated by Keisha Sutton-James, the corporate vice president of the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, a Harlem native, and the granddaughter of the late civil-rights activist and political leader Percy Sutton.

To ensure the broadest possible reach for the event, Our Village Giving Circle partnered with St. Albans Congregational Church, an important source of support and connection in the southeast Jamaica area.

“We spoke with the St. Albans minister about [the screening] and he said, ‘yes, this is something we need to bring into the community,’” says Nicholson. “Council member Leroy Comrie had been planning to do his own screening and said he’d like to be a part of this also. Everybody is excited to have this in the community.”

This will be the first event organized by Our Village Giving Circle, which is planning a brunch event on women and the media in early May called Everyday Women Everyday Voices.

Admission to the screening is free, but reservations are required, which can be made at ourvillagegives.eventbrite.com or at www.ourvillagegivingcircle.com. Nicholson expects the tickets to go quickly.

“I had been to another screening and it was very emotional for people. There were several people who walked out crying,” Nicholson says. “A lot of people still remember that time.”

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