Author: Adrianna Vang
When you see someone wearing a shirt that says “free hugs”, are you one to go for it? What does a simple hug from a stranger mean to you? Well, Ken Nwadike Jr. may make you think of a deeper meaning the next time you see “free hugs”. If you were too busy on Wednesday night, whether it be working, sleeping, or jamming out at the Weeknd concert, you missed out on quite the inspirational speaker. Ken Nwadike Jr. founded the Free Hug Project- a campaign he started to increase positivity and awareness throughout communities. His videos are empowering to people everywhere as he omits a positive and peaceful way of resolving conflict.
Ken’s cause was rooted in his childhood with his first personal and negative encounter with the police. He was only a young boy when he saw them arrest and take away his father. In his years of adolescence his family was homeless which made him insecure in school. It wasn’t until high school where he blossomed as the star of the track team. Because of this he made it big as a track athlete, working for Nike and training for the Olympics.
His first cause that he committed himself to was to give back to homeless shelters, much like the one he grew up in. His plan was to hold a half marathon on Hollywood Boulevard. The marathon was a success as he was able to raise enough money to donate to several shelters within California. Just days after this, the Boston Bombing occurred and it really hit home with Ken as he knew it could have easily been his marathon to be attacked. Because of this, he set himself a new goal that he fully committed himself to: he was going to run in the Boston Marathon the following year. He stayed fully committed to training for the marathon, but in his first qualifying race, he missed the time by 23 seconds. His second attempt at qualifying he was 30 seconds past the qualifying time.
Although, he couldn’t run in the marathon, Ken found another way to be there to support the runners. He stood along the marathon trail with a shirt and sign that read “free hugs”. His friends told him that it would fail. But he brought a camera and recorded himself hugging a vast amount of runners, many of which had smiles on their faces. His video went viral and he became known as the “free hugs guy”. After this, he attended several runs to show support to runners everywhere. Eventually, he found a need to go into doing more than just support runners. He wanted to help with real issues in communities.
Ken ended up at the front lines of riots where he provided peace and understanding to both sides. He’s provided support to the protesters and guided them to ways of peaceful protest while also interacting with and aiding the police in an understanding manner. From being in the flesh of these riots he fully understands the passion and rage people have towards the police, but also knows that the police are just doing their jobs. He’s learned the importance of interactions such as the power of a hug, a simple gesture to show love, he says “Love will save the world”. He brought up the point of hatred doing nothing good for us, although we are diverse, we are all humans.
I left this event inspired by Ken as well as all the beautiful individuals who expressed their love and concern to all the current issues of our nation and how we need to come together to deal with these causes, because just one person can make a huge difference. We need to learn how to fully understand views from both sides of a conflict and act in a peaceful and meaningful manner. Something as simple as a hug can make a huge difference as it is a sign of love that Ken found to create purpose worth fighting for, fighting in the most ethical and understanding way. To learn more about the Free Hug Project and Ken himself, visit https://freehugsproject.com.