CAMDEN, N.J. – A former Lenape (Medford, N.J.) High School football player contends in a lawsuit he was the target of racial slurs and other offenses at the Medford school.
Kenya Williams Jr. and his parents are seeking $1 million in damages in the civil rights suit, which alleges school officials failed to act on their complaints over a two-year period.
Among other allegations, the suit says Williams was “openly called” the n-word by white students, faced retaliation when he objected to verbal abuse, and was not awarded a varsity letter for his senior year.
It contends the football team’s black players faced “an increasing hostile and harassing environment … where statements, taunts of a racial derogatory tone and statements were used against and in referring to them.”
In a prepared statement, the Lenape Regional High School District said it “is dedicated to providing all our students with a progressive education and extracurricular opportunities in a safe, secure environment, notwithstanding any allegations to the contrary.”
“The district, at this time, cannot make any further comment on pending litigation,” it said.
The suit also alleges coaches and other officials condoned white students’ abusive actions despite complaints throughout the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.
For instance, it asserts, when black players objected to being called “grease monkeys” in October 2015, “they were told to handle the situation themselves.”
It contends the situation worsened when Williams, then a junior, went to a higher-ranking school administrator.
“Several Caucasian players retaliated against Kenya by taunting him and calling him ‘snitch Kenya,’” the suit says.
It acknowledges school officials took action after meeting with the student’s parents, Kenya and Floresrido Williams of Mount Laurel, in the wake of the “grease monkeys” incident.
An investigation found “concrete evidence of harassment, intimidation and bullying,” and the harassers were counseled and subjected to undisclosed disciplinary actions, among other measures, the lawsuit says.
But it contends Lenape officials “failed to acknowledge the glaring racial implication behind (the harassers’) behavior.” And it asserts administrators “failed to follow their own very clear anti-harassment policies.”
The suit claims Williams felt “disenfranchised, ostracized and completely outnumbered in this predominantly Caucasian student and athletic population.”
White teammates “continued to rain their terror” during Williams’ senior year, and school officials “went even further to ensure that … Williams suffered,” the suit claims.
It says the running back was denied playing time due to his complaints and did not receive a varsity letter at a team banquet in December 2016.
“Since Kenya received a varsity letter the year prior, and played in multiple varsity games, even scoring a touchdown, there was no reason to deny (him) his varsity letter,” says the lawsuit, which describes Williams as “very visibly upset about the situation.”
The suit also raises a broader criticism of the Lenape district over a November 2015 incident, when Williams received an in-school suspension for talking back to a teacher.
It contends a white girl who told the teacher to stop bothering Williams was ordered to “shut up, sit down and mind your own business,” but another black student received a detention after he supported the girl’s remarks.
“This form of racial discipline (shows) the structural racism which is unequivocally part of (the) Lenape School District,” the suit says.
The family’s attorney, Yvette Sterling of Cherry Hill, filed the suit Aug. 14 in state court, Mount Holly. It was moved Tuesday to federal court, Camden, at the district’s request.
Defendants include the high school and the Lenape regional district, as well as Superintendent Carol Birnbohm, Lenape Principal Tony Cattani and Athletic Director Timothy Walsh.