By Ken Epstein
Most people would consider Ralph Walker a model Berkeley High School alumnus.
He ran track for two years when he was a student at BHS, graduating in 1971. He later worked as an assistant track coach for two years.
Over the years, Walker could often be seen at the school, supporting BHS athletics and participating in alumni activities. He started coaching and organizing an afterschool track club for youth, which has operated in both Berkeley and Alameda.
Lately, he has been raising his voice against “a lot of racist stuff going on at Berkley High,” including racial conflict among students and harassment and hostility against Black staff and students by administration.
Things began to get worse for Walker after he reported that he had learned that a noose had been found hanging on a tree on the Berkeley High campus, discovered by a BHS safety officer on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 1.
“I got a call from someone that there was a noose on campus, and the administration did not notify the parents. So, I let people know about it on Facebook,” he said. ”I’ve been hearing that some people at the school are upset that I did that.”
Since then, he had an argument with the woman who heads BHS security, and he filed a discrimination complaint against her. “When I filed the complaint at the district office, I was told I would get a reply within five working days. It’s been two weeks,” he said.
While the district did not respond to his complaint, Walker did receive a text message last Friday from the Berkeley Police Department officer who works at the school, which said, ““If you come to the school, you will be arrested for trespassing because you’re going there to protest,” according to Walker.
“I have a pretty strong connection with a lot of parents up there,” he said. “A lot of them tell me stuff, and they don’t want me to say their names.”
“But they shouldn’t be scared to stick up for their kids,” Walker continued. “I’ve been talking about the racial problems at the school – from bad coaches to bad teachers. I’ve never seen it this bad.”
Walker said he received a call this week asking him to come to BHS for a meeting with the administration on Friday, but he was not told the reason for the meeting.
More than a week after the noose incident, the school notified Berkeley residents about it. In an email on Oct. 9, BHS Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza wrote: “This act of hate has never been, and will never be, tolerated on this campus.”
Melgoza said there was no video footage of the incident, no students had reported seeing the noose prior to its removal, and police had located no suspects.
He also apologized for the eight-day delay in communicating about the incident with the community, writing: “Berkeley High School Administration takes full responsibility for not bringing this matter to the attention of the larger community sooner.”
In an interview recently with the Post, he said BHS would organize small group discussions with the student body to raise understanding of the meaning of this hate incident.
However, according to several BHS classified employees and teachers, there have been no discussions with students or assemblies.
“I don’t think they really care,” said an employee who asked not to be identified. “They say they care with their words, but their actions don’t back it up.”
They have not done anything, said another BHS employee. “They are trying to sweep this under the rug.”
At a teacher in-service meeting on Monday, the school had a 45- minute presentation on ancient African history and a short video clip on the history of lynching – not followed up by discussion. “I don’t know what that was about. What did that have to do with teaching anybody about the noose? Asked a teacher.
Vice Principal Melgoza and the district’s public information officer, Mark Coplan, did not returned calls from the Post.
The Post also emailed questions to Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Max Anderson about the police threat to arrest Walker and the failure of Berkeley High to deal with the noose incidents.
Councilmember Moore told the Post that he had not heard about the noose incident but felt that something should have been done sooner to educate the school community.
“If the noose incident happened on Oct. 1, it should have been done two weeks ago,” he said, adding that ““I know Ralph (Walker) – he has done a lot of good work with young people.”
Moore said he would follow up, making inquiries and calling Berkeley Schools’ Superintendent Donald Evans.
By press time, Mayor Bates and Councilmember Anderson had not responded to the Post.