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Kevin O’Connor/Special to The Commons

Racial justice activist Curtiss Reed Jr. holds one of the first pints of Ben & Jerry’s new “Change the Whirled” frozen dessert honoring football quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

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An activist’s ice-cream dream comes true

Curtiss Reed Jr. helps spur Ben & Jerry’s to create a flavor touting Colin Kaepernick’s racial justice fight

BRATTLEBORO—Racial justice activist Curtiss Reed Jr. had a dream.

A Ben & Jerry’s ice cream dream.

A Ben & Jerry’s ice cream dream that the company would create its first flavor recognizing a current person of color — specifically, football quarterback and fellow advocate Colin Kaepernick.

This month, that dream suddenly and surprisingly came true.

The Vermont ice cream maker has announced it will honor Kaepernick with a new frozen dessert, with its theme a blend of the player’s civil rights actions and his non-dairy, vegan appetite.

“Change the Whirled” — a mix of caramel, sunflower butter, fudge chips, graham crackers, and chocolate cookies — will raise money for Kaepernick’s “courageous work to confront systemic oppression and to stop police violence against Black and Brown people,” the company said in a statement.

Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, sparked headlines in 2016 by kneeling in protest during the national anthem to shed light on police brutality against minorities.

That spurred Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, to launch an online petition in 2018 calling for Ben & Jerry’s to create a Kaepernick-inspired flavor.

“Ben & Jerry’s has been talking the social justice talk for 40 years,” Reed wrote in a change.org effort. “However, it has yet to walk the walk of racial justice as evidenced by who it chooses to feature on its pints of ice cream.”

The company once released a “limited batch” flavor, “One Love,” honoring the late musician Bob Marley. But other than a past play on former President Barack Obama’s campaign motto with “Yes Pecan,” it hadn’t saluted a living person of color.

This summer, amid Black Lives Matter protests of the Minneapolis police killing of Minnesotan George Floyd, Ben & Jerry’s published a blog post, “We must dismantle white supremacy.”

Six months later, the ice cream maker that has talked up climate change, refugee resettlement, and transgender rights followed up with its latest product.

“We deeply respect how Colin uses his voice to protest racism, white supremacy and police violence through the belief that ‘love is at the root of our resistance,’” Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy said in a statement.

Ben & Jerry’s will roll out its new flavor in 2021. Proceeds will support the Know Your Rights Camp, which Kaepernick founded to “advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities.”

Reed, head of the Brattleboro-based nonprofit, formerly known as Alana Community Organization, since 2002, isn’t shy about public campaigns. Shortly after joining the nonprofit, he launched a personal effort to remove the Confederate Colonel mascot from Brattleboro Union High School.

Reed succeeded — but only after patience and plenty of public debate. Hoping for a repeat performance, he proposed his Kaepernick idea to Ben & Jerry’s at a company meeting several years ago.

“They were talking about being more active around racial justice,” he recalls, “and I challenged them if they really want to focus on that, it needs to be reflected in their product line.”

Fast-forward to this month, when Reed received a call from Miller.

“I was sworn to secrecy,” the local activist said, “but on the phone I let out a big yelp.”

Ben & Jerry’s mailed out the first two pints in dry ice: One to Kaepernick and the other to Reed, who promptly hid it away in his freezer.

“In a world of instant gratification, we’ve lost sight of the fact that things take time,” Reed said. “This is what being patient and persistent can produce.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #592 (Wednesday, December 16, 2020). This story appeared on page A2.

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