Sometimes people were skeptical. Other times, the reaction was tears.
When Colin Kaepernick’s representative would phone a charitable organization to say the former 49ers quarterback was interested in working with them, even before a possible donation was mentioned, oftentimes he was met with skepticism. Why would this famous football player and social activist, with no previous connection to their organization, contact them?
“Typically, the organization would not believe I was representing Colin,” says Cat Collins, an informal adviser to Kaepernick who manned the phones during a $1 million donation program the quarterback conducted over a period of 10 months, ending in July. “They would think somebody was playing a joke on them. I would have to convince them, talk them into believing.
“And because they’re out there scrapping, feeling like, for the most part, nobody’s paying attention, the thought that Colin himself was noticing what they were doing, some of them would break down and cry. I had that happen three or four times. It was more than the money. It was, like, ‘I can’t believe he noticed us.’”
How did Kaepernick notice them? Well, the mechanism for his K7 donation program was unconventional. There is no playbook for handing out $1 million with the goal of maximum human, street-level impact.
“Funny you say that. We laugh about that all the time,” says Collins. “We’d be like, ‘Hey, let’s go to the playbook. Wait a minute, there isn’t one.’”
Now there is.
It would have been far simpler to write one check, kick back and wait for the thank-yous and photo ops. Not that there’s anything wrong with that method.
Kaepernick, who could not be reached to comment for this story, opted for a road less traveled, making it up as he went along, slogging through the research and the details, ultimately impacting dozens of social-action groups.
One such organization is Silicon Valley De-Bug in San Jose, which is devoted to a wide range of social justice and community organizing activities. One De-Bug function is providing legal and moral support for families of men killed by police officers. Regardless of who did what to whom, innocent families are left behind.
“Those people suffer day in and day out, because there is no support, nowhere,” says Laurie Valdez, whose partner was shot and killed by San Jose State police officers nearly four years ago, under still-murky circumstances. Body-cam video still has not been released. Their son, Josiah, was 4 years old at the time. “No one wants to talk about the children left behind, because it’s a political thing and it makes people uncomfortable, but the trauma, it will be forever.”
Valdez and her son have leaned on the support of De-Bug. She says Josiah often wakes up crying, and comes to her with questions she can’t answer about what happened to his father. Last year, Valdez had an idea: A one-day healing retreat for families like hers. De-Bug loved the idea, but lacked the funds.
“That’s not the kind of thing you can get easy support and donations for,” says Raj Jayadev, De-Bug’s justice coordinator.
Then came the reach-out from Kaepernick. Collins didn’t mention gifts or money; he asked De-Bug to suggest specific programs or projects that Kaepernick might want to support.
During the K7 campaign, all donations were specifically earmarked, and posted on the website, www.kaepernick7.com. De-Bug presented some ideas, including the healing retreat. Common goals were identified, specifics hammered out, and De-Bug received a check for $25,000 — $10,000 of it for the retreat.
In April, 37 families from around the state gathered in San Jose for a day of fellowship, developing strategy on police accountability, meditation, art therapy, singing, story-sharing, writing exercises and hugging.
Valdez says, “So Kaepernick, in my eyes, he’s speaking for the ones that are killed, but he’s also helping the ones that are left behind, the littlest ones, the babies left behind, which a lot of people don’t even think about.”
Kaepernick invited three De-Bug coordinators to his first Know Your Rights camp for youngsters, in Oakland, to give a presentation and lead a workshop.
“We learned a lot about (Kaepernick), about how sincere he is,” says Jayadev, “because we got a chance to see him with these young people, see him share his testimony. They intentionally didn’t have any media around, but Kaepernick was setting up the chairs, he was the guy stuffing the backpacks for the kids, he sat through every workshop.”
When the K7 campaign was announced, Collins told me that he and Kaepernick would likely create a committee of some sort to identify recipients, map out the plan and carry it through.
The committee turned out to be Kaepernick. He had time on his hands, thanks to no interest in him playing in the NFL this season, so he surfed the Web and reached out to friends in the activist community to identify worthy organizations.
Some donations were inspired by political events. When President Trump announced his intent to cut funding for Meals on Wheels, Kaepernick gave $50,000 to Meals On Wheels in Oakland.
Most of the 35 or so organizations receiving money never had direct contact with Kaepernick. And there were no photo ops or media interviews.
“He knows that if (a donation) is covered by ESPN, that would signal that he’s in this for public relations,” Collins says. “At the same time, we all want people to understand that Colin is following up on his pledge.
“I think he’s got to walk that line between staying true to who he is, and also getting enough buzz going where it will help make the world a better place.”
It was an unusual giveaway, considering that since the last NFL season ended, Kaepernick has been on a fixed income — fixed at zero. Some visibility is helpful, now that he plans to seek outside money to continue his program, but he doesn’t have to spotlight himself. People do that for him.
“Between the (NFL team) owners and Donald Trump,” Collins says, “they could not have done a better job of making Colin relevant and important.”
One possibly unintended beneficiary of the K7 program has been Kaepernick himself. Before his protest began, Kaepernick, to the public at least, was a troubled soul — brooding, rude, uncomfortable in many interactions. The protesting Kaepernick seemed a much happier and engaged person.
Maybe the donations were chicken soup for a troubled soul.
“I really do think so,” Collins said. “I’ve been with him throughout the donations, and I do think it’s healing. I do think he’s seeing — well, he’s always known that this is more important than football.”
But if Kaepernick were to get an out-of-the-blue phone call from an NFL team, would he take the call? Yes.