Our Voices

Colin Kaepernick’s 2020 Ripple of Hope Remarks

I want to express my thanks to Ms. Ethel Kennedy and Ms. Kerry Kennedy for their kind introductions, to the Ripple of Hope gala committee whose hard work has made tonight possible, and to everyone at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. I’m humbled to be among so many luminaries whose quiet and often unsung labors have helped to expand and nurture human rights worldwide. I also want to congratulate my fellow 2020 Ripple of Hope laureates: Dolores Huerta, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dan Schulman, and Dan Springer.

Though I’ve known of RFK Human Rights for quite some time, I’m deeply honored to have had the opportunity to collaborate with them over the last five months through my Know Your Rights Camp on a $1 million bail fund to support local groups working to free people from jails, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Know Your Rights Camp was founded in 2016 with the mission to advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities. Though I believe the wholesale abolition of prisons and policing is a fundamental precondition for the liberation of Black and Brown folks, my hope is that our recent bail fund partnership has been able to bring a measure of immediate relief to our incarcerated siblings. This is what survival pending revolution looks like in practice, an idea that animated the work of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

As I reflect on what this work, what this honor means to me, I’m reminded of Robert F. Kennedy’s June 6, 1966, Day of Affirmation address at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, where he first outlined his Ripple of Hope theory of change. To paraphrase, he writes, “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, we send a tiny ripple of hope and build a current, which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Kennedy’s metaphor affirms my own experience—that radical social transformation isn’t the result of a once-and-for-all act of resistance by a public figure but rather the outcome of many smaller acts of courage and care by the people, freedom fighters in the truest sense, that create a mosaic of hope capable of elevating our society and liberating our people.

Ripples evoke the idea of movement and momentum through history, of widening the collective we, and working together toward a common goal. History has an uncanny way of reminding us how the global scope of resistance connects us all and how the synchronicity of time and space can offer powerful lessons. Just days after Robert Kennedy gave his Ripple of Hope address, Stokely Carmichael first publicly articulated the idea of Black Power on the grounds of Stone Street Elementary School in Greenwood, Mississippi, as a direct response to the inescapable terror of anti-Black violence. His indelible words speak for themselves, “We been saying we want freedom for six years and we ain’t got nothin. What we got to start saying now is Black Power! We want Black Power.” Carmichael’s call to Black Power was both a message of unity and resistance, a call for Black people to unite, to recognize our heritage, to build a sense of community, to define our own political ambitions, and organize our own organizations based on freedom and humanity. My hope is that the Know Your Rights Camp and the work we’ve accomplished since 2016—work that includes legal trainings, political education, and community building—serves as a worthy contribution to this legacy of which Carmichael spoke.

Know Your Rights Camp has affirmed for me that young people are ripples of hope and the current and future builders of movements rooted in love, resistance, and humanity. Movements begin with ripples, and ripples spring from hope, love, and courage. If we build together in hope, if we grow together in love, if we resist together in courage, then there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. Thank you all for this incredible honor—an honor I share with my siblings in the movement and freedom fighters globally, an honor that demands an unrelenting fight for liberation.