Peace Activist Nwadike Brings “Free Hugs” to Albion

Ken E. Nwadike Jr. is the founder of the Free Hugs Project. With over 7 years of community work experience, Nwadike has changed the lives and touched the hearts of many people (Photo via Wikimedia Commons).

On Aug. 31, as many students were adjusting to life back on campus, Union Board brought “The Power of Human Connection,” an event hosted by Ken Nwadike Jr., to campus.

Nwadike, a peace activist, motivational speaker and video journalist spent the day at Albion College spreading his message of peace, love and the power of human connection. Nwadike’s message and work echoes what we sometimes fail to demonstrate, but all know to be true: “that we are all human”.

Nwadike’s talk, “The Power of Human Connection,” began with an introduction to his life and goals. At 8 years old, Nwadike was living in a homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles during the Rodney King Riots of 1991.

As he watched the city go up in flames and destroy the community he lived in, his mother urged him to follow the guidance of another King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his work in servant leadership, nonviolent activism and community engagement.

Nwadike held his mother’s wisdom close, but didn’t fully connect with those tenets until his high school track coach noticed him. The coach reached out, took a personal interest in Nwadike’s success and imparted to him the power that results from kindness and human decency.

“He came up to me one day in the hall and asked me, ‘why do you walk with your head down all the time?’ I said I didn’t really know why, and that I was trying to keep a low profile, and he responded ‘Well then we have to get you something to be proud of. I want you on my team’”, said Nwadike. “It was an incredible experience, to have someone who actually believed in me”.

Nwadike went on to excel in high school and college, and began giving back to his community. His work towards peace activism began in a homeless shelter, working with youth who had no drive or direction regarding their future.

Later in the talk, Nwadike provided videos of news reports showcasing his positivity. To show the world the power of heart and human decency, Nwadike found a way to raise awareness and over a million dollars from donations to establish the Hollywood Half Marathon in support of homeless youth. With the platform he gained for that work, he went on to found the “Free Hugs Project,” which originated at the Boston Marathon in 2014.

“I provided free hugs to runners as encouragement along the route. This simple act made national news headlines and lifted runners’ spirits. Hugs produced smiles and gave runners an extra boost as they ran,” said Nwadike.

Since then, Nwadike has repeatedly made major news headlines for his courageous and non-violent demonstrations and for actively de-escalating violence during protests, riots, and political rallies.

“It’s crazy what a simple hug can do and how much it can help someone in a rough spot”, said Nwadike.

At the end of the event, Nwadike had advice on how others could continue to support his work.

“Just be good to each other, notice other people, help when you can and don’t be afraid to do what is right,” said Nwadike.

Sophomore Austin Raymond, a biology major from Clare, did not know what to expect when he attended the event. Raymond decided to attend and see what the “Free Hugs” project was all about.

“My biggest takeaway from the event is that it only takes one person to start something revolutionary and impactful,” Raymond said.

Nwadike concluded the event by handing out socks to attendees and giving out free hugs. Student attendees hugged each other as they left Norris 101, embracing Nwadike’s work in peace activism.

Nwadike encouraged all the attendees not to forget the other people they met during the day’s sessions and to take the time to continue to notice people.

“Fear and hatred will cease to exist, when love is in abundance”, said Nwadike.

About Shannon Barba 16 Articles
Shannon Barba is a sophomore from Marshall, Michigan, currently double majoring in physics and computer science. After Albion, he hopes to attend graduate school at MIT. In addition to being Co-Marketing Coordinator for the Pleiad, Barba is the Engagements Chair of Student Senate, participant in the Prentiss M. Brown Honors program, member of the Student Volunteer Bureau, mentor for first-year students, pianist for Albion's Jazz Band, representative for the Committee of Student Learning, mentor for Harrington Elementary School, and a member of the Biochemistry Club.

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