13-Year-Old Self-Taught Painter Honors Exonerated 5 With Custom Backpack to Spread Awareness

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A pint-sized painter is being praised for his latest masterpiece honoring the Central Park Five, now recognized as the Exonerated Five.

Tyler Gordon said it was his chance encounter with the men  — Raymond SantanaKevin RichardsonAntron McCrayYusef Salaam and Korey Wise — at this year’s BET Awards that inspired him to begin painting the formerly incarcerated men. The quintet was wrongfully convicted in the brutal rape and assault of a Central Park jogger in 1989, a story recently dramatized in the Netflix series “When They See Us.”

Tyler Gordon
Artist Tyler Gordon, 13, said he chose to honor the Central Park Five on his backpack as part of his effort to raise awareness of their story. (@official_tylergordon / Instagram)

Gordon, 13, was on the hunt for the perfect backpack to carry into the eighth grade, but nothing seemed to fit. The young teen took to the internet for inspiration and found an image of the Exonerated Five by Serygraphy. That’s when he grabbed a white backpack and took to painting his own version of the photo.

“I chose to paint them on my backpack so that kids at my school and other adults would be reminded of what happened to them,” Gordon told media outlet Because of Them We Can.

The young artist, who’s from San Jose, California, and only started painting two years ago, said his meet-up with the five men has impacted his life in more ways than one.

“I was very excited when I met them because they acted themselves and I felt glad for them because they didn’t let [what happened to them] bring their whole lives down,” he added.

Like the Exonerated Five, Gordon has triumphed over adversity in his life. The painter was born deaf and didn’t utter his first words until he was 6 years old, according to his mother , Nicole Kindle. It was breakthrough surgery to unfuse the bones behind Gordon’s ears that allowed him to hear.

Kindle said she’s more than proud of her son’s achievements.

“He took his gifts that he was blessed with and [is] using them to raise awareness for the things going on in the world,” she said.

Gordon has painted countless notable pieces, including portraits of late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Janet Jackson and slain West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle. According to BOTWC, his artwork has won praise from the likes of Steve Harvey, Kevin Hart, Jennifer Lopez and others.

“I think this will look good on a t-shirt,” Gordon said of one of his paintings of the Exonerated Five. “Don’t you????”

Watch more in the video below.

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