Former NFL star Colin Kaepernick and Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Texas patrons threaten to call ICE on Mexican restaurant for keeping mask mandate Gottlieb: 'Probable' that high schoolers will get coronavirus vaccines this year MORE, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, are slated to be among this year’s recipients of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award.

Other leaders expected to receive the award this year include Dolores Huerta, founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founder of United Farm Workers of America; Dan Schulman, president and chief executive officer of PayPal; and Dan Springer, chief executive officer of DocuSign.

“At a time when the courageous pursuit of equality and justice has become political and riddled with adversity, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stands with these modern-day human rights defenders in their inspirational fight for progress,” the organization said in an announcement on Monday.

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In a statement thanking the organization for the honor, Kaepernick recalled his experience watching musician and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte receive the same award in 2017.

"I am humbled to follow the footsteps of individuals like Mr. B and to be in the company of all the other laureates," he said. 

The group’s decision to honor Kaepernick comes as the nationwide debate around athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice has reignited in recent weeks amid widespread demonstrations sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans.

During the 2016 season, Kaepernick was the first NFL player to begin kneeling before games during "The Star-Spangled Banner." Though other NFL players and athletes in other sports joined the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback in kneeling during the anthem to protest racism and police brutality, Kaepernick was often criticized by conservatives including President TrumpDonald TrumpUS, South Korea reach agreement on cost-sharing for troops Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE as the face of a movement they claimed to be unpatriotic. 

The inclusion of Fauci as a Ripple of Hope Award laureate comes after the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was tapped by the White House earlier this year to help lead the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said the “country is yearning for leadership, for moral fortitude, for common decency and kindness, and this year’s Ripple of Hope laureates give us great hope for the future.”

“Their work for equal justice touches every corner of society, sometimes at great personal cost. We are deeply honored to celebrate these changemakers, who have set forth countless ripples of hope at a time when our world is in such need of inspiration,” she added.

Past recipients of the award include former President Obama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGraham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he 'could destroy it' Hillicon Valley: China implicated in Microsoft breach | White House adds Big Tech critic | QAnon unfazed after false prediction Jill Biden redefines role of first lady MORE and current presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE.