Dad presses district for solutions after racist incident at Olympia high school

Jan 25, 2022, 1:26 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2022, 7:30 am
Olympia high school...
Qayi Steplight speaking to KIRO 7 TV. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

One week after a video circulated showing students at a Capital High School basketball game in Olympia calling a Black student on the rival team a “gorilla,” the father of the targeted student says something of a movement has begun.

Parents who say that this is just the latest in a long history of racism in the Olympia School District have come forward to speak about their experiences and demand change, while students have staged walkouts at the schools.

“It seems like other families that have dealt with this situation, they’re feeling like, ‘OK, I’m going to talk up now,'” said Qayi Steplight, the father of the student who was targeted on camera.

Racist video from Olympia’s Capital High School basketball game sparks outrage

In the past week, Steplight said he has spoken with the Olympia School District Superintendent, as well as Capital High School’s principal, Rosemarie Burke, about steps to move forward. Steplight said he has been invited to the next Olympia School Board meeting, and is in talks about coming into Capital High School to teach students about his own experiences as a Black man.

In a letter to parents last week, Burke outlined the school’s immediate plans for anti-racism training and education, including meetings with different student groups and staff, and segments building on previous lessons learned from Martin Luther King Day and conversations with the Nisqually Tribe.

“They’re working on getting the Black Student Councils from different schools to come together to figure out policies that we can put in place, so I think that there’s a lot of movement going on,” Steplight said. “I definitely can’t diminish the responses and the actions that the students at the school and the school district itself are putting in place.”

Burke’s letter acknowledged that the process of change for the community “doesn’t happen overnight,” but emphasized that they are committed to “becoming a more just and inclusive school.”

Steplight agreed that there is a long way to go, but he is hopeful. Unlike other racism discussions in the past, he believes this one stands out because the racist words were caught on film. He said that proof is empowering witnesses to be brave enough to come forward and talk about what has happened at other games, without fear of repercussions or being called a liar.

“If there wasn’t a video, I don’t think that this would be as big of an issue, and I don’t think that everything that we’re seeing — as far as people getting involved, people wanting to make change, people wanting to put processes [in place] and come up with different groups to talk about this — I don’t believe it would have happened,” he said.

And it is important, he said, to harness the energy in the first few days after an incident like this and turn it into action, because “there’s a window of about a week or two where this is a big discussion” and momentum can build.

Unfortunately, not all of the feedback and comments Steplight has received from the community have been supportive. Steplight said he has also gotten quite a bit of harassment on the internet and even in person. However, he said the supportive messages have been far more numerous, and he is trying to let those voices drown out the malicious ones.

After all, he said, work needs to be done now to change the future for the next generation of kids at Olympia schools.

“At some point, either they’re going to take us seriously, or we’re going to have to start removing our kids from these schools,” he said.

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(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)...
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Dad presses district for solutions after racist incident at Olympia high school