Five Lessons in Social Justice from Colin Kaepernick

One of the biggest stories of recent days has been Colin Kaepernick and his protest….and rather than spend time recapping, here’s a 1o minute clip from The Daily Show that outlines exactly what’s been happening:

 It’s ironic that, in a year that is highly charged around both free speech and social justice issues, that the individual responsible for driving the lead did so by his lack of action. For nonprofits and social enterprise, fear of reprisal may inhibit their efforts to effectively advocate for their mission. For social change agents, taking a stand is critical…but knowing how to negotiate through blowback is a very critical skill.

Yet, Colin Kaepernick’s actions provide great examples in how to advocate for social justice in a strong, assertive manner:

  • Counter critics with actions, not words – In an age where the phrase “social justice warrior” is used pejoratively (and often inaccurately), and with significant criticism from other public figures like Kid Rock and members of KISS, Colin Kaepernick could easily engage in a war of words in the media. Instead, he is choosing to let his actions speak for themselves….and as we’ll learn, he’s backing his statements with action.
  • Remember to put justice into social justice If all Colin Kaepernick did was avoid standing during the National Anthem (which has only happened in more recent times), it would be noteworthy. But Colin Kaepernick is making sure he follows his principles by taking further action, whether through donating profits from jersey sales, holding fundraisers, providing backpacks for kids, or encouraging the San Francisco 49ers to follow his lead. Most social justice advocates back their words with actions, and Colin Kaepernick is providing an excellent example.
  • Understand that the First Amendment applies to everyone  – One of the advantages of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is that it outlines two basic rights: the right to advocate and believe in a particular set of ideals, and the other is the right to challenge and criticize those beliefs. It is a right bestowed upon everyone, and the Constitution makes it clear. For those who want to learn more,  you are free to check it out in text, audiobook, or even YouTube video.
  • Stay Informed….and be willing to inform others – One aspect of Colin Kaepernick’s actions that rarely gets covered is that this is an athlete who stays aware and informed of the issues. Posting one’s opinion on Twitter is good, but looking at Kaepernick’s Twitter account, there’s an almost equal number of shares around social justice issues.
  • Finally, know how the opposition will counter your statements – Many opponents for positive social change tend to engage in a select set of strategies, outlined via the Community Tool Box. By avoiding many of the “traps” that happen when discussing difficult issues around social justice, Colin Kaepernick is providing a great example of “grace under pressure.”

Social justice issues, especially around racial and police relations, are current hot-button topics, with many people having strong opinions on either side. Despite being dismissed in some quarters as another “athlete with an agenda”, Colin Kaepernick is providing a really strong example of social justice advocacy done right.

And proof that sometimes, great insights can come from the most unlikely of sources.

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