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White Students Tag Black Athlete In Viral Video Where They Call Him a ‘Gorilla,’ Dad Takes Action: ‘This Is The Way … They Look At Us’

The father of a Black student-athlete is taking steps against racism after seeing a video showing white students at a high school basketball game filming themselves heckling his son.

The Olympia School District, located in the capital of Washington, also has issued an apology after the student, Ahmari Steplight from River Ridge High School in Lacey, Washington, was subjected to the taunts.

Ahmari Steplight’s father (left) is mobilizing the community in response to his son (right) being taunted at a basketball game (Video Screengrab)

Steplight’s parents found out about the cyberbullying after students from an opposing team posted footage on social media and tagged their son.

Steplight’s team played an away game at Capital High in Olympia, Washington, on Friday, Jan. 14.

During the game, students from the hosting school filmed themselves heckling the teen from the stands as he trotted down the court. A 27-second-clip shows the boys calling out his jersey number, shouting expletives, and eventually graduating to calling him a “gorilla-b–ch” in the now-viral video.

Qayi Steplight, the father of the young man, shared the video on his Facebook page on Tuesday, Jan. 18, after his son was tagged in a post.

Steplight wrote above the video, “Please stand up and let your voice be heard. Blacks are not MONKEY’s, GORILLA’s, APE’s or N–GER’s and whatever else they choose to call us. … It’s time something be done!”

On the “Gee and Ursula” show on KIRO News Radio, the father talked about the incident and the impact it’s had on his son. He also shared that he tried to “shield” him from the realities of racism.

The father said, “You try to shield your kids from these things. Even though they’re going to experience it as adults, you try to make sure that they don’t have to worry about this part of it right now.”

Steplight said when he was a kid himself, he was called a “gorilla” in the same city. 

“When I was young, I’d walk downtown Olympia [with friends], and we were called gorillas all the time,” Steplight recalled. “You know that it’s a remark made specifically toward Black people.”

He finds things have not changed and Blacks have just learned to accept the racial epithets spewed.

“When I look at the community, there’s this sense of acceptance — like we’ve just accepted that these are the names we are called, this is the way that they look at us,” he said.

The father, who happens to be a native Olympian, said the racialized heckling is not an isolated incident with the school district and at sporting events, things are known to take an ugly turn.

“There’s this line drawn in the sand where it’s like, as soon as you walk into the Olympia School District, specifically at these sporting events, they have these fans and they get very ugly with their words, very racially driven,” he said. “Some of the friends who are my age who went to that high school, a lot of them are saying, ‘Well, I left the high school because of this stuff, I didn’t do sports because of this.’ So there’s a long history.”

Steplight said posting the video provided a safe space for others to share their experiences with racism at Olympia games. He learned Black parents of student-athletes in the district have faced the same experiences in other sports.

The station says it received numerous emails from parents with similar stories of racial slurs and insults coming from the bleachers during their kids’ games. One mom expressed that other adults are present when this happens, but when she brings it up she is “brushed off.”

There are many reports of racism toward Black athletes in the city. Some of the acts, at the very school where Ahmari Steplight was mocked, have been more physically dangerous than cyberbullying. One report allegedly claimed Capital High School students followed a car of Black students after a game and ran them off the road. 

Olympia School District superintendent Patrick Murphy released a statement to families regarding the video on Wednesday, Jan. 19. In it, he challenged the community to change the opinion that Black people have about the district being racist.

“There was a local media report today of a video and audio clip taken at a basketball game this last weekend between Capital High School and River Ridge High School,” the note began.

“In the video clip, one of our students is heard making derogatory and racist remarks about a River Ridge High School basketball player. Specifically, the term ‘gorilla’ is used to describe the opposing player who is Black; comparing Black people to monkeys has a long, sinister, racist history in our society.”

School leaders and employees have investigated the incident, identified the students responsible for the clip, disciplined them, and worked from a restorative model where the students can make amends with those who have been hurt. 

“Incidents like these do harm to our entire community,” the educator continued. “However, the brunt of the blow can be especially felt by our community members who are Black. It is also my primary responsibility to ensure that we relentlessly pursue the creation of an anti-racist Olympia School District where awareness, compassion, and celebration of our diversity is of greatest importance.”

Capital High’s principal Rosemarie Burke also released a statement. While she did not express outrage or issue an apology for the behavior of her students, she did “share some tangible steps” her staff intends on making to “create an anti-racist environment at CHS.”

Over the last two weeks, Steplight has mobilized other Black leaders to express their outrage publicly. Dr. Lisa Thomas, a veteran and community stakeholder, spoke at a North Thurston School board meeting, the district where River Ridge High School is in, and demanded that the incidents like what happened to Ahmari not be brushed under the rug. She also told the panel this event should bother everyone, regardless of race.

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