In 1989, Donald Trump wanted 14-year-old Santana dead. In fact, he took out several full-page advertisements in New York publications advocating for the death penalty for Santana and four other young men, known as the Central Park Five. He even went on Larry King’s CNN show to express himself, saying that “maybe hate is what we need if we’re going to get something done.”
Santana and the rest of the “gang” were convicted of the brutal assault and rape of jogger Trisha Meili in Central Park in 1989. The press went crazy, using the so-called “wilding” teens — aged 14 to 16 — as a clear example of the lawlessness that had overcome New York City. According to reports, they hunted the 28-year-old investment banker, a woman they knew ran in the park.In late February, a Trump Tweet about staffers Rob Porter and David Sorenson’s alleged domestic abuse reminded his followers that “there is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” So, Santana joined fellow Central Park Five member Yusuf Salaam on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show to serve as a reminder that, if it were up to Donald Trump, due process would have escaped them. “If he had it his way, we wouldn’t be here right now,” he told the anchor. “Our kids wouldn’t be born. We would just be whispers.”
None of those five teenagers were guilty. Matias Reyes, a known rapist and convicted felon, confessed that he acted alone in Meili’s attack, and all five men were exonerated in 2002. The Central Park Five then settled a lawsuit against New York City in 2014, and each one of them became millionaires.
Now Santana is living his dream by creating a collection that aims to dress men who are driven to urban wear with an edge. The name, Park Madison NYC x R, represents Santana’s vision of New York elite. “Live on Park, shop on Madison,” he says. More than that, it is a shout out to where he came from: Ray himself lived between the two streets, but on 111th Street in Harlem.“My bottom line is to just put out dope clothes,” Santana says. “I want to put out something that you could look back at in five years and say yeah, I’d still wear that.”
When they first started Park Madison NYC x R, Santana and his partner, Rasheed Young, debated using the name Raymond Santana, attaching it to their brand. There was fear that it might turn some people away from the clothing.
On his 2016 campaign trail, Donald Trump told CNN that the Central Park Five “admitted they were guilty.” The President of the United States has not yet apologized to Santana, Yusuf Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray or Kharey Wise.
“Somebody out there still feels like you’re guilty,” Young told Santana before the line launched. But the name stuck anyway. “That’s the only time we had that conversation.”
They also had a problem with outside investment. When potential collaborators learned of Santana’s settlement, they tried to exploit the newly wealthy man for money, Young says. “You know what happens when people find out one of the partners is a millionaire. So we went back to basics, and it’s been me and Ray ever since.”The partnership started in a Midtown gym. Santana was the manager and Young was a patron. Young immediately felt connected to Santana, feeling his determination and dedication after building a personal training program together. They became fast friends, but eventually lost touch. Three years ago, they found each other again. When they reconnected, Santana had sent Young a direct message on Twitter, asking if he remembered his old friend. So, Rasheed Young googled Raymond Santana Jr. That’s how he learned about his friend’s past.
In their first partnership talks, Young was skeptical. Santana lives in Atlanta, and kept calling New York-based Young with ideas. But Young felt that Santana should enjoy his freedom before delving into business. He had his whole life to work, Young thought. And Raymond Santana Jr. had just become an overnight millionaire. “I told him to do himself a favor. Go on vacation. Spend a lot of money,” Young recalls. He didn’t expect Santana’s response — he had called him from a European vacation. “What I want to do is part of enjoying life,” Santana told his partner. “I want to build a fashion line.”
Today, Young handles the financial side of the business, while Santana handles the creative. He had, after all, been sketching since he was a child, and dreamed of launching a clothing line since his release from jail. “Before I got locked up, the only thing I knew how to do was draw,” he says. “That passion kind of died with me in prison. But I worked to bring it back.”
“We like the young, trendy consumer who isn’t afraid to take a risk,” Santana says, “but also the consumer who enjoys classic designs and clean lines.” He hopes that his brand will, in time, become a household name. They’ve had help: Jay-Z’s business partner Emory “Vegas” Jones, CeeLo Green, Swizz Beatz, Elijah Boothe, Nas, and Ryan Phillippe have all taken to social media to show off their Park Madison NYC gear.
The brand isn’t shy about Santana’s past — after his CNN appearance, Park Madison NYC’s President’s Day sale was named the #NotMyPresident sale — but Young also wants his partner’s clothing to be recognized. “I want this to be something people remember Ray by. Right now, he’s part of the Central Park Five,” he says. “No, I want him to be known as Park Madison NYC’s Raymond Santana. He made his dreams come true. That’s what I want people to know.”