Harvard Honors Colin Kaepernick, Others With W.E.B. Du Bois Medal: ‘Love Is at the Root of Our Resistance

Comedian Dave Chappelle, left, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, right, applaud during W.E.B. Du Bois Medal award ceremonies, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. Chappelle and Kaepernick are among eight recipients of Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medals in 2018.
Photo: AP Photo (Steven Senne)

Alas, to be a fly on the wall at Memorial Hall at Harvard University Thursday afternoon.

The room’s very air would be perfumed with the sweet scent of black liberation and excellence as eight prominent, distinguished, and mostly freedom fighting African Americans received the University’s prestigious W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.


Harvard has awarded the medal since 2000 to people whose work has contributed to African and African-American culture, and former honorees include Muhammad Ali and Maya Angelou.

Thursdays honorees included: Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a staunch advocate for social justice; comedian Dave Chappelle; Kenneth Chenault, chairman and a managing director of General Catalyst (JD ‘76); Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Pamela Joyner, prominent art collector and philanthropist (MBA ‘84); psychologist and author Florence Ladd; Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (JD ‘85, MPP ‘85, LLD ‘15)—obviously the most overachieving of the bunch—and artist Kehinde Wiley.

Photos and video from the evening showed the above honorees and Dr. Cornel West, who returned to Harvard last year with a joint appointment at the Harvard Divinity School and the Department of African and African-American studies as well as Dr. Henry Louis Gates, director of the Hutchins Center (and chairman of The Root).


“Thank you Harvard University for honoring me tonight with the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal,” Kaepernick tweeted on Friday. “I’m grateful for this recognition and to be amongst the other highly esteemed honorees that inspire me.”


Aol reports that Kaepernick spoke about why he took a knee:

He went on to talk about the first time he took a knee and the response from Oakland’s Castlemont High football team, whose players took a knee the next week to support him. He visited the team on game day.

“One of the young brothers says ‘We don’t get to eat at home, so we’re going to eat on this field,’” Kaepernick said. “That moment has never left me.

“And I’ve carried that everywhere I went. 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.”


Kaepernick also called on the people in the room to stand up for those in need.

“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,” Kaepernick said. “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.”


He added: “I go back to something I said in a speech previously, that love is at the root of our resistance, and it will continue to be, and it will fortify everything we do.”

The controversial former footballer, who also spoke about his deal with Nike, requested that the speech not be broadcast.


Alas, to have been a fly.

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About the author

Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.