Quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked a nationwide movement — and controversy — when he chose to kneel while the national anthem was played before NFL games last year, a gesture Usher tells PEOPLE he supports “100 percent.”
The musician had a chance to speak to the athlete Wednesday night at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Hosts Annual Ripple of Hope Awards Dinner in New York, and was moved to hear the reasons why Kaepernick chose to take a symbolic stand.
“[It was] a profound experience to hear with clarity why and what his actions represent and just look to continually be supportive as we move forward like every other man and woman who’s watching what he is and what he’s done,” Usher tells PEOPLE exclusively.
Kaepernick started the movement last season while he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, in part to protest police brutality toward people of color. More NFL players chose to kneel this year, even as Kaepernick remained unsigned and stayed off the field. The movement gained more attention after President Donald Trump criticized the kneeling athletes and pressured NFL owners to force their players to stand during the anthem.
Last week, Kaepernick was honored for his efforts when Beyoncé presented him with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards.
Usher shares the belief held by many that Kaepernick remains unsigned because of his social activism on and off the football field.
“I like many people am confronted by the reality that in using your rights, you will be punished, and that’s not American,” he said. “What I’ve seen him do is courageous — be bold, and that is something that should be celebrated.”