Curtiss Reed Jr.
Vermont racial justice activist Curtiss Reed Jr. holds one of the first two pints of Ben & Jerry’s new “Change the Whirled” frozen dessert honoring football quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Vermont ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s is honoring football quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a new flavor blending his civil rights activism and 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 Thursday.

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 Vermont racial justice activist Curtiss Reed Jr. to launch an online petition in 2018 calling for Ben & Jerry’s to create its first flavor recognizing a current person of color — specifically, Kaepernick.

“Ben & Jerry’s has been talking the social justice talk for 40 years,” Reed wrote in a effort that made its own news. “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.”

This summer, amid Black Lives Matter protests of the Minneapolis police killing of Minnesotan George Floyd, Ben & Jerry’s published a blog post titled “We must dismantle white supremacy.”  But when asked about the Kaepernick petition, the company issued a statement that said while it “appreciates the energy around this idea,” it didn’t want to be seen as “trying to profit off the movement.”

On Thursday, the ice cream maker that has talked up climate change, refugee resettlement and transgender rights announced its latest effort.

“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.

The new flavor, its publicity says, “serves up joy on the way to justice.”

“It’s not a particularly radical notion to suggest that police forces and policing probably are not the best way to handling things like mental health crises and substance abuse, and contextualize them for people what a different vision of public safety looks like,” Chris Miller, the company’s head of global activism strategy, told USA Today in a preannouncement interview.

“We can help normalize and reinforce these ideas to a more mainstream, general population audience,” Miller said.

Ben & Jerry's Change the Whirled 2
Ben & Jerry’s new “Change the Whirled” frozen dessert is a mix of caramel sunflower butter, fudge chips, graham crackers and chocolate cookies. Provided photo

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

The quarterback publicly thanked Ben & Jerry’s for its fundraising support.

“My hope is that this partnership will amplify calls to defund and abolish the police and to invest in futures that can make us safer, healthier, and truly free,” he said in a statement.

Since its founding by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978, Ben & Jerry’s has recognized such celebrities as Stephen Colbert (Americone Dream), Elton John (Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road), the comic crew of Monty Python (Vermonty Python) and, amid all the men, one of the surprisingly few women, Vermont Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Hannah Teter (Maple Blondie).

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

Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, first proposed the idea at a company meeting 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 week, when Reed received a call from Miller.

“I was sworn to secrecy,” the Brattleboro-based 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.”

VTDigger's Brattleboro reporter.