by Layla Garms
Special to the NNPA from the Winston-Salem Chronicle
Celebrity Chef Paula Deen lost her television show and millions of dollars in endorsements; Philadelphia Eagle Riley Cooper faced team disciplinary actions and the ire of his teammates; and the campaign of James Lee Knox, a Republican Winston-Salem mayoral candidate, sank after he lost the backing of his party; but a local black man says that a white person who directed the n-word at him and his children at a local YMCA has not even received a slap on the wrist.
As a child of the segregated South, Kenneth Boston said being called racial epithets is not new to him, but the city native and father of seven is heated that his children were subjected to such harmful language in 2013.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been called that before,” said the 52-year-old. “That, I guess, was a reminder of what I’ve already been through.”
Boston said the incident happened at the most unlikely of places — the Winston Lake Family YMCA (the city’s historically African American Y branch).
Boston takes his 13-year-old daughter Tyra and his 16-year-old twins, Jeremy and Preston, to the Winston Lake YMCA at least once a week to walk and run on the indoor track. Exercise is crucial for Preston and Jeremy, who are autistic, their father said. The Y exercise regiment has been a family tradition for more than five years.
“I take the boys walking up there just about every Saturday and Sunday,” related the retired R. J. Reynolds employee. “It helps stimulate them and settles them down because of the medication that they’re on. It helps them sleep.”
On the evening of July 28, Boston said he was supervising his daughter and twin boys on the track when the threesome passed a Caucasian woman and her daughter.
“As (my children) went around (the woman), she hollered out, ‘Someone needs to do something about these nigger children!’” he related. “As she came around, I said, ‘Excuse me?’ and she said, ‘You heard me, nigger.’”
Boston said he pushed a nearby panic button to summon Y staffers. A group of youngsters on the basketball court below the track heard the altercation and ran to get a staffer, he said. Both parties moved downstairs, where Boston says the woman told Y employees that his sons had tried to “knock her off the track,” which Boston patently denies. The woman repeated the epithet again during their conversation at the front desk, Boston said, and he lost his temper.
“I told them I should’ve thrown that white woman over the rail,” he admitted. “…At that point, I got my children and I left.”
He said hearing those words directed at him and his children was painful.
“I cried inside,” he declared. “I really wanted to react another way, but I knew that I represented much more than myself. I represented my kids, and I represented other black people.”
The incident has taken a toll on Tyra too, Boston said.
“My daughter, now she asks me questions all the time of ‘Why is she like that? Why would she call us that name?’” he related. “…She’s real hesitant about going up on the track now.”
Adding to his daughter’s trepidation, he said, is the possibility that the family could encounter the woman again at any time. Although he reported the incident to Y administrators, the local NAACP branch and even his City Council representative, Boston said the woman is still a Y member in good-standing. In fact, the family has seen her at least once at the Y since the incident.
“The thing that bothered me the most was the support and the reaction that I got from my own people,” he said. “They just want to push it under the rug and let it go.”
Attorney S. Wayne Patterson, a Winston Lake Family YMCA Board member and president of the local NAACP, and City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, a Winston Lake Y member, were both contacted by Boston. Both men say they are still looking into the allegations at Boston’s request. Patterson said he hoped to schedule a mediation session with the two parties involved, Winston Lake Y leadership and NAACP representation by the end of next week.
“I think the best remedy is to have both parties sit down and talk this out,” he said. “The Y is for everybody, but at the same time, we’re not going to tolerate any slurs or any threats by any members.”
Montgomery, who represents the city’s East Ward, believes any instance where racial slurs are used warrants the community’s attention and response.
“Behavior like this is just unnecessary and it shouldn’t be tolerated,” he declared. “I feel like, particularly with things that have taken place recently, not just here in the city of Winston-Salem but nationally, that that shouldn’t be tolerated … when we use racial epithets as in something like this, especially when it’s being directed to children, we need to bring attention to it, and something needs to be done about it.”
Boston says he is unsatisfied with the branch’s handling of the incident thus far.
“I would like to see her removal from the Y,” he said. “But even more than that, I would like see them put something up that says this behavior will not be tolerated from anyone.”
Boston said the Y staff member on hand at the time advised him to fill out a report and submit it to Membership Director Jolyn Roberts the following day.
“She took my information and said that they would do an investigation — that was all she said,” he said. “No one has contacted me as of yet.”
Roberts referred The Chronicle to Branch Director Terry Matthews, who said the matter has been resolved and that the Y does have rules that prohibit abusive language.
“The YMCA has spoken with both members involved,” she said. “We explained the code of conduct that the YMCA follows in an incident. We explained to both of them that we expect both of them to follow the code of conduct as well, as we expect all of our members to follow the code of conduct.”
Boston said YMCA Vice President of Operations Richard Daniels spoke with him briefly, but no Y staffers have met with him or discussed with him the code of conduct.
“I was in the gym working out and he (Daniels) spoke to me in passing,” Boston related. “He said, ‘I’ve taken care of the matter,’ and then he just walked off and that was it. He didn’t tell me how the matter was taken care of or anything.”
Though she was not present at the time of the incident, Boston’s wife Evette Boston, said she was advised by a YMCA employee not to speak to anyone about it. Mr. Boston said the Winston Lake staff has exacerbated the situation by avoiding it.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal, but they have made it bigger by more lies and more lies,” he said.
“It’s not even about the white lady now,” Mrs. Boston added. “It’s about the fact that the people at the Y didn’t respond to the boys and to us. They just swept it under the rug.”
Matthews declined to release the name of the other member, saying that membership records are private.