Colin Kaepernick interview about his new book ‘I Color Myself Different’

Colin Kapernick have you been busy. Sure, he hasn’t played football professionally since 2017, but since parting ways with the San Francisco 49ers, the former quarterback has kept himself in the media, sometimes even on his own terms. Among his projects: co-creating with Ava DuVernay a Netflix series based on his teenage years, “Colin in Black & White,” and running a nonprofit group called the Know Your Rights Camp, a youth-empowerment organization that aims “to advance the liberation of Black and Brown people through education.”

This week, the 34-year-old activist takes his message to a younger audience: kindergartners (and under). His picture book “I Color Myself Different” tells the story of a 5-year-old named Colin who is very much like his creator of him: He loves to read, play football and hang out with his friends of him. He barely registers that he is biracial and looks different from the family who adopted him.

“But one day,” the little boy says, “I had to learn that being different takes courage.” That day — which Kaepernick says is based on a real experience (and shares the image to prove it) — he was asked to draw his family from him. He was proud of his creation of him, in which he colored himself with a brown crayon, while his parents and siblings are yellow. But the kids in his class had a lot of pointed questions. At first Colin was surprised and diminished, but — in life and on the page — the experience turned out to be pivotal, in a good way.

“The moment I chose to color myself with a brown crayon was a defining moment in my life,” Kaepernick writes in an author’s note. “I knew that I was different from my family, and I loved myself because of it. I began to understand that my brown skin was connected to my Black identity. It helped me to recognize that the world doesn’t always value Blackness.”

By email, Kaepernick answered questions about his book, his childhood and his career. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

TO: I think it’s safe to say that even thoughI Color Myself Different” was in production for 18 months, the book has actually been many years in the making and reflects my own evolution of thinking on identity, adoption and self-love. I hope the book encourages young people — especially Black and Brown youth — to embrace their unique power to change the world.

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Q: And start a publishing company. What’s next from Kaepernick Publishing?

TO: I founded Kaepernick Publishing in 2019 with the goal of elevating a new generation of writers with diverse views and voices. “I Color Myself Different,” which is a collaboration between us and Scholastic, is our second title and our first children’s book. Our first title, “Abolition for the People,” was published in October 2021. It’s an anthology that argues for a future without and beyond policing and prisons. Our third title drops on October 18. It’s called “In the Blink of an Eye” and is the autobiography of NBA legend Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. It’s really powerful. Over the next few months, we’re planning to announce two more titles that we’ll be releasing in 2023.

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Q: Your book explores how a child (you!) struggles with looking “different” — not just in school but also in your own family. How did you figure out how to both fit in and stand out?

TO: I’m not sure I’ve ever fully figured out how to “fit in” and “stand out.” I think all we can really do is stand confidently in who we are, embrace our power, find our people, and walk our path. Ultimately, this is the lesson I hope to impart in “I Color Myself Different.”

Q: What are your favorite children’s books?

TO: There are too many to mention here but a few that come to mind immediately are “Hair Love,” by Matthew Cherry (illustrated by Vashti Harrison), “The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson (illustrated by Rafael López) and “Wutaryoo,” by Nilah Magruder. These books are brilliant.

Q: Given the current cultural climate, do you worry about kids in some school districts not being allowed to read it?

TO: Literature is always going to be contested because literature is powerful. And literature that centers Black and Brown people is always going to be doubly contested and scrutinized because we live in an anti-Black world. Books — not to mention literacy itself — have the power to help us imagine a better future and then act to bring it to fruition. “I Color Myself Different” is really about the emancipating power of self-love. I honestly can’t think of anything less controversial than that.

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Q: Do you hope that kids will think of you as a writer, a football player — or something else?

TO: My profession — whatever it is at any given moment — is always going to be anchored to my principles. So, whether I’m quarterbacking, writing children’s books, running my nonprofit organization or doing something else, I hope that young people see me as a person of passion and purpose, as a person willing to assert his principles about him.

My advice to young people: Whatever unlocks your joy, do that — and do it with integrity and in the power of your brilliance.

Nora Krug is an editor and writer in Book World.

By Colin Kaepernick. Illustrated by Eric Wilkerson.

Scholastic/Kaepernick. 40 pages $18.99

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