Former Apex gymnast speaks out about racism while at Alabama

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- The reaction to racial injustice in the past couple of weeks has led many to feel empowered to share their stories.

Tia Kiaku from Apex used Instagram to open up about several incidents that she claimed took place while competing as a gymnast at the University of Alabama.

After one year at Ball State, Kiaku, 20, transferred to Alabama and was trying to fit in and avoid ruffling any feathers.

"I start to realize these little micro aggressions and implicit bias and things like underlying racism that I didn't necessarily notice while I was in the program," Kiaku said.

According to Kiaku, the most overt comment came from assistant coach Bill Lorenz during the fall of last year.

"Three of the black girls were on the same event and we were doing vault drills and one of the girls was like, 'oh, all the black girls are on the same event' and then my coach walks over and he proceeds to say 'what is this, the back of the bus?'"

"What was intended to be a lighthearted comment ended up having an offensive impact, and I regret that," Lorenz said in a statement to the Tuscaloosa News. "It hurts me that I hurt anyone. I care so much about this team and our student-athletes, and I believe they know that."

The statement isn't good enough for Kiaku.

"Honestly, I just want people to be held accountable," Kiaku. "Mainly an apology would start that. I haven't gotten an apology from anybody."

Kiaku also alleges the use of the "N" word by multiple white teammates. One of whom reached out privately to apologize. None, however, has come forward publicly.

After filing an official complaint, a Title IX investigation was performed, ultimately producing no disciplinary action. Kiaku, who just months earlier won a team award for selfless, supportive love, said she was encouraged by school officials to step away from the team.

"I felt as if, if I didn't speak out, my head coach was writing my story for me, and I just wanted to have my own voice," Kiaku said. "I didn't want to feel like my voice was silenced, and I wanted to open the door for conversation and to make change within the NCAA gymnastics because I've seen that throughout this whole time, I've seen that gymnasts have the exact same experience that I do and I don't want that to continue."

Kiaku dropped out of classes in January and isn't sure whether she will continue with gymnastics, which is hard for her mom, Desiree Gregory, to swallow.

"To see her not be able to continue her two years in a collegiate program in a sport that she loves, that is what really bothers me," Gregory said.

Kiaku, who at one point was a junior Olympian, told ABC11 that she didn't want to leave Alabama but was told she'd be a distraction. With gymnastics on hold, she's leaning toward continuing her education at a Historically Black College or University.
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