Colin Kaepernick, at 34, presides over a multimedia platform for Black and brown people’s empowerment. In 2016, inspired by civil rights heroes, the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback rocked the NFL by taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality, sparking protests and backlash. That fall, he and his partner Nessa (known by her first name only) established Know Your Rights Camp, a youth-focused organization with principles that echo the Black Panthers’ Ten-Point Program for communities, along with a downloadable set of educational resources, Colin in Black & White: The Kaepernick Curriculum. He went on to found Kaepernick Publishing, for which he edited a collection of essays by social justice leaders, Abolition for the People: The Movement for a Future Without Policing or Prisons.
Kaepernick Publishing and Scholastic have teamed up to publish Kaepernick’s debut picture book (as part of a multibook deal), the autobiographical I Color Myself Different, with illustrations by Eric Wilkerson, an artist known for his high-energy fantasy illustrations. Wilkerson’s paintings grace the covers of Nic Stone’s Shuri books and Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong series, and Kaepernick was familiar with his work; the author and illustrator spoke back and forth to fine-tune the images of a young Colin in I Color Myself Different. Kaepernick corresponded with PW about writing as a form of activism, recognizing the many elements that make up our identities, and finding strength in the history of social justice movements.
What led you to pursue children’s book writing in addition to your activism?
Whether for children or adults, writing is inseparable from my activism. Writing is like a laboratory for testing, shedding, and sharpening ideas—for learning and unlearning what we think we know about ourselves and the world around us. I think Toni Morrison once said something like “if there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I Color Myself Different is a book I wish I had encountered as a kid. That’s one of the reasons I wrote it.
I Color Myself Different is rooted in a true story from your childhood. In the book’s afterword, you even include a candid photo of yourself as a kid. Can you describe the process of turning this memory into a picture book?
I Color Myself Different is based on a real experience I had as a young person. I was given an assignment in kindergarten: “draw a picture of yourself and your family.” I drew my white adoptive family with a yellow crayon and then picked up a brown crayon to draw myself. This pivotal moment in my life taught me a valuable lesson about embracing my Black identity through the power of self-love, and helped me to understand how my brown skin was connected to my Blackness. Turning this revelation into a picture book was an exciting challenge. It transported me back to being five years old and asking big questions for which I didn’t always have satisfying answers. I hope I Color Myself Different helps to fill in some of these gaps for young people today.
I Color Myself Different is about being “magnificently brown and magnificently different,” as Colin’s teacher declares. In addition to being a celebration of Black pride, it is also about your adoptive family. Can you talk a bit about how you represent intersections of identity in this personal story?
Identity is a complex thing and so it can be challenging to craft a coherent story around multiple intersecting identities, especially a story that’s geared toward children. I spent a lot of time thinking about how best to frame a narrative that can hold Blackness and adoption together in authentic and nuanced ways.
One spread in I Color Myself Different shows you, as a kid, among a group of nine “people who inspire, create, lead, and change the world,” including Black icons Muhammad Ali, Angela Davis, and Toni Morrison. Can you talk about why you included these historic leaders for young readers today?
What these pages represent is more than the sum of the individual freedom fighters depicted on them. I wanted to pay homage to figures who often used their individual platforms to strengthen the collective. I hope these pages inspire young people to know their histories—to know our histories. Our culture has a legacy, our history has a legacy, our movements have legacies. Understanding these legacies helps to root us in the strength of our past as we work toward building a better future. These are some of my favorite pages from the book, and Eric Wilkerson did an amazing job bringing these illustrations to life.
What drew you to the work of Eric Wilkerson?
Eric’s tremendous talent as an artist is obvious to anyone who picks up I Color Myself Different. His attention to detail and precision in character development is second to none. He expertly helped to transform a complex story about identity, adoption, and self-love into something visually stunning, into a book that I hope children and their families will find vibrant, accessible and inspiring.
How is Kaepernick Publishing partnering with Scholastic to get this book into readers’ hands? Will you do any special promotions through your Know Your Rights Camp or other organizations to connect with young people?
Scholastic has been a fantastic partner throughout this process and we at Kaepernick Publishing look forward to continuing to build our relationship with them. We’ll be working closely with Scholastic over the next several months to donate copies of this book to elementary school libraries around the country. We also plan to distribute I Color Myself Different to all of the youth attendees at our upcoming Know Your Rights Camp.
I Color Myself Different by Colin Kaepernick, illus. by Eric Wilkerson. Scholastic, $18.99 Apr. 5 ISBN 978-1-338-78962-1