It starts with Colin Kaepernick. The free-agent NFL quarterback came to the South Side of Chicago last Saturday to hold one of his Know Your Rights Camps: full-day youth seminars that Kaepernick organizes, funds, and emcees. Already staged in New York City and the Bay Area, with more cities to come, these are not open events for sports fans, the press, or random people. Their aim is to speak directly to black, brown, and economically disadvantaged youth, invited through local community organizations, about history, nutrition, legal rights, and financial literacy. As Kaepernick said to me, “Every city has grassroots resources. Our goal is to raise awareness about those resources and help young people access them to empower themselves and the people around them.”
It might start with Colin Kaepernick, but it doesn’t end with him. There is a young multiracial network of roughly 50 Know Your Rights volunteers. They have flown in from all over country to handle logistics at the event’s site, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park. These are people like Kerem from Orange County who said, “This message is about equal rights. Often people in underserved communities don’t understand that they have these rights and they need to claim them…. Colin has sacrificed a lot to get to this point. It shows he is passionate about this and we all feed from that.”
Another volunteer, someone just hanging out in a Know Your Rights T-shirt, was Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid. “I came here to support Colin,” he said to me. “I want to show these kids that there are people who want them to succeed despite how they may feel when they go to school. But I also came here to learn.”
Reid also spoke about the last season of anthem protests, where he kneeled alongside Kaepernick. He explained in a quiet but proud voice, “All we wanted to do was expand the discussion. People were being killed by police and we wanted that recognized and discussed. And I think we accomplished that.”
The day started with breakfast: eggs, yogurt, biscuits, and fruit for the 200 young people who were at the door by 9:00 am. A 12-year-old named Daymien gave up the opening game of his baseball season to attend. “I wanted to play today, but I think this is more important,” he said. “I wanted to come here for knowledge and learn my history.” In addition to the breakfasts and lunches provided, young people were given T-shirts that read “Know Your Rights” on the front. On the back, the shirts listed the following 10 points:
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HEALTHY.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE BRILLIANT.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE LOVED.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COURAGEOUS.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ALIVE.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TRUSTED.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE EDUCATED.
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.
The free breakfasts and the 10 points both derive, intentionally, from the political legacy of the Black Panthers. I spoke with Ameer Loggins, a young writer and PhD candidate at Cal-Berkeley who helped develop the Know Your Rights curriculum as well as the ten-point plan. “This is an extension of the Freedom Schools of the civil-rights movement, the Panther schools, and all non-institutional educational programs that go out into the communities. The only difference is that we are mobile and we are associated with Colin, and that puts it on a different kind of platform.” As this camp was in Chicago, the particulars of the city’s history and policing were central to the agenda.