Vegan civil rights activist and former San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the recipient of the prestigious W.E.B. Du Bois Medal last Thursday at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard. The annual award recognizes individuals who have made great contributions to Black history and culture as well as those who “advocate for intercultural understanding and human rights.”
The former NFL quarterback, who was one of eight individuals recognized by the center, gained fame by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 in order to protest against police brutality and other forms of systematic racism against Black people and people of color that are prevalent within American culture. Following the move, other professional athletes followed Kaepernick’s lead by taking a knee during the anthem in solidarity for the modern social justice movement.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” said Kaepernick in a post-game interview. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he continued, hinting at the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and many others who have been killed without consequence.
kaepernick’s acceptance speech
“I’m going to start by sharing a story of when I first took a knee,” Kaepernick said in his acceptance speech. “That following week, a whole high school football team — Castlemont High School, Oakland California — their whole football team took a knee in support of what I was doing. So I went to go visit these young brothers and spend game day with them, and I’m in the locker room with them. They’re getting ready, they’re getting prepped, and I hear them talking back and forth, getting hyped up, and I hear one of the young brothers say, ‘We don’t get to eat at home, so we’re going to eat on this field.’ That moment has never left me, and I’ve carried that everywhere I went.”
Kaepernick became a polarizing figure following the protest that gave national attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. A September 2016 survey revealed that much of the ire came from white fans, with 37 percent saying that they disliked Kaepernick “a lot” up from 7 percent in 2014. However, Kaepernick’s jersey became the top seller on the NFL website, showing that many more supported his actions. The same survey revealed that 42 percent of African American fans liked Kaepernick “a lot.” Many veterans, who some have said were disrespected by the action of taking a knee, have vocalized their support for the activist.
Despite backlash and ongoing litigation against the NFL due to the fact that the league may have colluded to keep Kaepernick from having a career in football, he has remained steadfast in his values and continues to use his voice to inspire others to stand up against racism. The NFL has declined to comment on the matter.
“And I think that’s the reality of what I’ve fought for, what so many of us have fought for. People live with this every single day, and we expect them to thrive in situations where they’re just trying to survive,” Kaepernick continued. “And I feel like it’s not only my responsibility, but all our responsibilities — as people that are in positions of privilege, in positions of power — to continue to fight for them, and uplift them, empower them. Because if we don’t, we become complicit in the problem. It is our duty to fight for them and we are going to continue to fight for them.”
“Love is at the root of our resistance, and it will continue to be, and it will fortify everything we do,” he continued.
This is not the first time that Kaepernick has been recognized for his actions. Last year, he was named “Citizen of the Year” by men’s magazine GQ. Earlier this year, athletic wear brand Nike announced Kaepernick as the face of its new advertising campaign which encourages others to “believe in something, even if it means losing everything.” The contract includes an apparel line where proceeds will be donated to his civil rights charity, Know Your Rights, a free campaign that educates youth on their rights and interacting with law enforcement.
Kaepernick is also the recipient of the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, the ACLU’s Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, The Puffin/Nation Institute’s Prize for Creative Citizenship, and Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award.
A vegan since 2016, Kaepernick’s website states that he “works to fight oppression of all kinds globally.”
Image Source/Colin Kaepernick
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