"Dad. Does Colin still have a game on Sunday?"
The question was a smart one for any football fan to ask - particularly one who's rooting hard for Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
It was 12:49 a.m. in Oakland late Friday night. My 10- year-old son, EZ, and I, made the trek there from New York and we were dragging. For our bodies it felt like 4 a.m.
We were invited by Kaepernick to attend a camp on Saturday morning and I had just gotten a text from Colin.
It read, “Hey Shaun. I just wanted to check and make sure you and your son made it safe my brother.”
I replied, “Thanks man. Just now checking in at the hotel. We took a late flight. See you soon bro.”
And his reply was what shocked my son and I both.
He said: “That's great! I can't wait. I just finished filling all the backpacks up. Glad you made it safe. Get some rest.”
While my son and I were checking in to the hotel late into the night, Colin Kaepernick was packing backpacks for a camp for kids that he helped conceive called, "I Know My Rights Camp."
My son had me curious. Did Colin and the 49ers have a game this weekend? I checked the schedule and this weekend was indeed a rare bye week for Colin and the 49ers. Instead of using it to rest or travel, he was packing backpacks and preparing to launch something truly special.
For the past two months, behind the scenes, Colin Kaepernick and a small group of his friends have been quietly planning this camp for the kids of Oakland, hoping that it can be a model they replicate in cities all over the country.
"Please don't say anything about it online," Colin asked me a few days before the camp. "I'm not doing this for the press and I don't want it to become a media event so that the kids and the families can feel like this is just for them."
When EZ and I arrived at the venue in Oakland, it was immediately clear that that it was the definition of grassroots. Colin and just a few volunteers were actually managing the event, located at Impact Hub Oakland. Even though I've been a fan of Colin for years, and he and I have stayed in touch for most of this year, we had never met face-to-face. He's a tall, strong dude. With his Afro out, he was clearly the tallest man in the room. Quick to smile, his eyes are fresh and intensely focused on whomever is in front of him.
As EZ and I met Colin in the registration line, we first gave each other some dap, then a bear hug. I immediately told him how cool I thought it was that he was up so late packing backpacks and prepping for the event.
"I didn't just want to hire someone to come in and do this. We did all of this ourselves. We even opted out of corporate sponsors because we just wanted the freedom to say exactly what we thought the kids we've brought here today need to hear and learn. I told myself that if I was going to do this type of work, that I was going to actually do it myself,” he said.
Inspired by the Black Panther Party, and their popular 10 point plan, on their 50th Anniversary, the camp created 10 rights that each child has the right to know. They were listed on the back of T-shirts given to each camper. They are:
1. You have the right to be free.
2. You have the right to be healthy.
3. You have the right to be brilliant.
4. You have the right to be safe.
5. You have the right be loved.
6. You have the right to be courageous.
7. You have the right to be alive.
8. You have the right to be trusted.
9. You have the right to be educated.
10. You have the right to know your rights.
Gathered together were hundreds of black and Latino kids from Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Many, including my own son, wore Kaepernick jerseys and 49ers gear. Colin Kaepernick was clearly the draw. The possibility of seeing him, hearing him and hanging out with him got kids from all over the Bay Area to wake up bright and early and make their way to the camp at 8 a.m. What was prepared for them was far deeper than a 49ers fan fest.
That much was clear as soon as Colin took the mic.
"We're here today to fight back and give you all lessons to combat the oppressive issues that our people face on a daily basis. We're here to give you tools to help you succeed,” he said. “We're going to give you knowledge on policing history, what the systems of policing in America were based on, and we're also going to teach you skills to make sure you always make it home safely."
Colin continued, "We want to teach you today about financial literacy, how you can pursue higher education, how you can be physically fit and healthy. We will talk about police brutality, and what to do about it, but we also have lawyers, professors, health and fitness experts, because we want you to be able to live the life of your dreams."
For the next several hours, the kids would attend smaller breakout sessions with leaders and experts challenging them to create powerful new habits for success. Not a single workshop was about sports, but instead they were all about essential life skills that would prepare the kids for a world that often treats people of color with an incredible harshness.
As I observed Colin walking from session to session, making sure that everything was working well, high-fiving the kids and instructors, cheerfully indulging each child that wanted to take a selfie, it was hard not to feel like the man is living out his higher purpose in the world. Not only is he clearly at peace doing this work, his courageous protests and demonstrations on the field have positioned him as a type of cultural superhero in the black community.
Because of the way the Black Lives Matter Movement was built, with a decentralized leadership structure, most kids would struggle to name a single leader in the movement. Colin Kaepernick has immediately become one of the most visible faces and names fighting against injustice in America. That clearly wasn't his intention, but nonetheless, here we are.
If Colin Kaepernick never played another football game or took another knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner,” he has already placed himself in the permanent lexicon of protests.
But he's not satisfied. He wants to see change.
"This is just the beginning man. What we've done here today in Oakland, we want to do all over the country, in cities all over this country, by bringing together local leaders, local activists and local youth, and not only giving them the skills and lessons they need, but we want to show them how much we love and value them,” he said.
As he brought together all of the kids, families and leaders, you could hear a pin drop when he shared he shared a personal story most of us have never heard before.
"As many of you know, I was adopted. As African-Americans in general, it's often hard to know where our ancestry, where our roots are. As someone that was adopted, for me, it has been even harder. All I ever really knew was that I was from Milwaukee, but recently, I took an Ancestry DNA test and discovered that my ancestors are from Ghana and Nigeria. It changed everything for me. It helped me know that my history did not begin with being adopted. It did not begin with slavery. It's even part of why I wear this Afro now. I'm not going to hide who I am."
Then, Colin announced a special surprise for everybody in the room.
"I want all of you to know what I know, so when you leave, in your bag, you'll see the forms where each and every one of you can discover your ancestry through your DNA for free. We've taken care of that for each of you. I want you to know what I know and know where you came from before slavery, before this oppression that we are experiencing, before police brutality, you had thousands of years of rich history and I want you to know your roots with that history."
Image via Flickr
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always
been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such
material available in our efforts to advance understanding of
biotechnology and public policy issues. We believe this constitutes a
'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section
107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section
107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those
who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included
information for research and educational purposes. For more information
go to: http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107. If you wish to use
copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go
beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.