Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and comedian Dave Chappelle were among eight people saluted by Harvard University for their contributions to black history and culture.
The eight recipients of the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal were honored Thursday afternoon by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard.
Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, created a firestorm when he began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and social injustice.
Video cameras were forced to be turned off while Kaepernick addressed the dozens of audience members, with many needing to win a lottery to even be in attendance.
The distinguished award is presented annually to those who have made significant contributions to black history and culture, with scholars, activists, comedians and artists all recognized this year.
"As we look at the honorees today, it's clear that one of the themes in their selection process was protest," honoree Florence Ladd said. "A takeaway from this occasion must be protest, protest, protest!"
The dozens of attendees of the exclusive event held tight to every word.
"He was not simply content at being successful," presenter Cornel West said. "He wanted to be great."
Kaepernick recounted a story from a visit to an Oakland high school football team, who told him, "we don't get to eat at home, so we're going to eat on this field."
The quarterback said that moment stuck with him.
"People live with this every day and thrive in situations they’re just trying to survive," Kaepernick said. "I feel it’s my responsibility and all our responsibility for people in a position of power to fight, to uplift them. If we don’t, we become complacent in the problem. Love is at the root of our resistance, and it will continue to be and it will fortify at the root of what we do.”
The other honorees are Kenneth Chenault, chairman and a managing director of General Catalyst; Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Pamela Joyner, founder of Avid Partners, LLC; psychologist and author Florence Ladd; Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; and artist Kehinde Wiley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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