By Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger
Vermont racial justice activist Curtiss Reed Jr. has a dream — a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream dream that the company create its first flavor in honor of a person of color — specifically, football quarterback and fellow advocate Colin Kaepernick.
“Ben & Jerry’s has been talking the social justice talk for 40 years,” Reed writes in a change.org petition. “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 has recognized such celebrities as Stephen Colbert (AmeriCone Dream), Jerry Garcia (Cherry Garcia), Elton John (Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road), John Lennon (Imagine Whirled Peace), the comic crew of Monty Python (Vermonty Python) and, amid all the men, one of the few women, Vermont Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Hannah Teter (Maple Blondie).
But other than a play on President Barack Obama’s campaign motto with “Yes Pecan,” no Ben & Jerry’s flavor has saluted a person of color. That’s why Reed is seeking support for his online petition.
“Send a message to Ben & Jerry’s that Colin Kaepernick, our modern day Mohammed Ali, should grace a pint!” it says. “What better way to show the rest of the world a corporate ethos fighting for racial justice.”
Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, isn’t shy about public campaigns. Shortly after joining the Brattleboro-based nonprofit in 2002,
he launched a personal effort to remove the Confederate Colonel mascot from the local union high school.
Reed succeeded — but only after patience and plenty of public debate. His Ben & Jerry’s quest could be a repeat performance. As he tells it, the company invited leaders of color to a meeting several years ago.
“They were talking about being more active around racial justice,” Reed recalls, “and I challenged them if they really want to focus on that, it needs to be reflected in their product line.”
Ben & Jerry’s recently unveiled a new display at its Waterbury factory on Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. But outside the plant, Reed hasn’t seen the message expressed in store freezers.
“The idea hasn’t gone anywhere,” he says, “so I decided I would start this campaign to demonstrate there is a public out there who would appreciate Ben & Jerry’s walking the talk of racial justice.”
In response, the company is saying neither yes nor no.
“While we don’t talk about future launches, we can say that we admire Colin Kaepernick for courageously standing up against racism and injustice in our country,” spokesperson Laura Peterson said. “Particularly in these times, standing up for equity and justice is as important as it’s ever been.”
Kneeling down in protest during the national anthem is another matter. Kaepernick is “the most polarizing figure in American sports,” according to the New York Times. “Outside of politics, there may be nobody in popular culture at this complex moment so divisive and so galvanizing, so scorned and so appreciated.”
Reed concedes the challenge that would face Ben & Jerry’s.
“All the white guys that have flavors are noncontroversial,” he says. “But if Ben & Jerry’s core business model is about social consciousness, that needs to be reflected in their product.”