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Concord family demands accountability after Black teen faces racist abuse

Main Street in ConcordJonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A Concord family is demanding accountability from the local public schools and police after they said their son was the target of racist harassment, including taunts and physical violence while attending Concord Middle School.

Emmy Odunze, whose 13-year-old son is a student at Concord Middle School, said he has reported three instances of abuse to school officials, but there is no obvious sign that the racist conduct has resulted in discipline.

On Oct. 3, while his son played football with a group of students, a white boy turned to him and called out, “Look, that’s the monkey in the middle,” according to Odunze. A few moments later, while playing with a makeshift whip, the same boy said: “‘Hey, let’s whip [Odunze‘s son] because he’s Black,’” he said.


More than a year ago, Odunze said, a white girl slapped his son across the face on the bus a day after a much-publicized incident involving Will Smith striking Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. He believes his son was struck because he’s Black.

The family has hired an attorney, and Odunze has reported the instances to Concord police, he said.

Concord parents Deborah Ngozi Odunze (left) and Emmy Odunze. They said their 13 year-old son has faced racist harassment while attending Concord Middle School, and local officials have not handled the situation appropriately. Odunze Family

The school’s principal, Justin Cameron, has told him in phone calls that the students who engaged in the racist behavior will be disciplined, though wouldn’t say how, according to Odunze.

On Friday, Odunze said, his son spotted the white boy who had made the racist slurs in school. When Odunze called Cameron to demand why he was in school after harassing his son, Odunze said, Cameron told him that the student was facing an in-school suspension.

The Concord school department did not respond to Globe questions about the accusations.

Schools spokesperson Thomas Lucey said in an emailed statement that the system has “embraced antiracism, inclusion, and belonging [curriculums] and programs for many years.” The statement included links to the school system’s five-year strategic plan and a separate plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Ant-Racism.


It also included a screenshot of a tweet of Concord students appearing with the Boston Celtics to honor a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging program.

“Students, teachers, staff, and administrators are committed to creating a school culture that embraces a diverse community regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. When incidents occur, they are always responded to with a serious and thorough approach,” the statement said.

Concord Police Chief Thomas M. Mulcahy did not respond to emails and a phone call requesting comment.

Massachusetts public schools are not required to report racist harassment to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, according to Jacqueline Reis, an agency spokesperson.

Concord, which shares its high school with neighboring Carlisle, has about 2,000 students enrolled in its elementary and middle schools, according to state data.

Nearly three-quarters of its students are white, with less than 4 percent who identify as African American, according to state data. Hispanic, Asian, and multiracial students each represent about 8 percent of the student body, the state reported.

Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, said student-on-student racial harassment “is unfortunately all too common” in Massachusetts, particularly in predominantly white schools where students of color are racially isolated.

“School officials have a legal duty to prevent a racially hostile educational environment,” Sellstrom said in an email. “However, they often fail to do so, by downplaying racially charged incidents and refusing to discipline the perpetrators.”


Odunze and his family have lived in Concord since 2015. He is a senior project manager for a biotechnology company, and his wife, Deborah Ngozi Odunze, is the city of Cambridge’s deputy chief public health officer.

They want the schools and the wider community to have a broader conversation about racism. Children are learning this behavior, and parents need to put a stop to it, he said.

“This is a racist attack. … These parents need to start talking to their children at home, they need to start watching the language they’re using,” Odunze said. “Racism is learned.”

Odunze said his son, who plays soccer and is an exceptional student, is not focusing on the racism. Some fellow students have told him they support him.

“He’s a very cool kid, a very nice kid,” Odunze said.

School officials were also unable to investigate an instance a year ago, when someone dumped chocolate milk on his son’s meal. Cameron told him no one saw the harassment, Odunze said.

Odunze is deeply frustrated with school leaders and local police over the handling of the harassment of his son. One option, removing his son from the school, is off the table.

“We live here, he has to go to school. And I shouldn’t have to pull my child out of school while [the] aggressor is going to school,” Odunze said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.