Local man takes ‘free hugs project’ to a grieving Dallas

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SAN DIEGO – The national outrage over the recent attacks on law enforcement and the deaths of unarmed black men by police has many struggling with what to do. For one San Diego man, that answer lies in love and he’s sharing his message one hug at a time.

“Every time I see a crisis or tragedy anywhere in our country I just go in and I try to spread love," said Ken Nwadike, founder of the Free Hugs Project.

Nwadike, a lifelong runner, was inspired after seeing the horrors at the Boston Marathon in 2013.

“I wanted to figure out a creative way to pay my respects, so I said if there was a bomb there I'm just going to be the ‘love bomb!'" he said. "The following year I went out to the race and I just decided to hug people.”

He says he wasn’t sure anyone would hug him back -- especially men -- but his first hug was none other than former San Diego Chargers quarterback, Doug Flutie.

That first hug started his one-man movement.

In the last year, he has traveled to almost every headline-making, violent situation in the country, including at the Donald Trump rally in San Diego in May, when he got dragged into the mayhem and was even pepper sprayed.

He says he doesn’t get involved in the protests, but rather tries to be a bridge of understanding. He was moved to travel to Dallas after five police officers were killed during a Black Lives Matter protest, after he saw Alton Sterling’s son broke down on national television.

“I wanted to be an example of love and support between being an African-American man and the police,” Nwadike said. "I was surprised as soon as I got there that the police even knew who I was.”

He documents his experience through social media. His viral videos have been seen more than 125 million times.

“If no one else is going to rise up and try and be a constant example of love, then I'll be that," Nwadike said. "There shouldn't be fear or disrespect on either side. Not from the police to the community or the committees versus the police.”

He attributes his deep empathy and desire to help others from being homeless as a child.  His outlet was running.  He eventually won a scholarship and was recruited by the NIKE National team. Today, he produces highly successful races all over Southern California.

“You have a heart for people who are going through things like that," Nwadike said. "I guess that heart has gotten bigger over the years! We see all the craziness is going on the world and I just want it all the stop and I hate seeing the violence and the division."