SAN DIEGO — San Diego’s Ken Nwadike, Jr. has a powerful new platform for sharing his message: a Super Bowl commercial.
Nwadike is a documentary filmmaker, “peace activist” and motivational speaker, but many people know him simply as the “Free Hugs guy.”
The San Diego native first gained attention on YouTube when he attended the 2014 Boston Marathon one year after a deadly bombing rocked the event. Wearing a shirt and holding a sign advertising free hugs, Nwadike spread love and encouragement to attendees in a video shared all over the world.
Since then, Nwadike has visited dozens of events offering free hugs, and has expanded to motivational speaking gigs, documentary film-making and other projects.
In tense moments at protest events, Nwadike says he tries to play peacemaker and help bridge an understanding between law enforcement and protesters. Some activists are receptive to his message; others have criticized him for connecting with officers during protests over police brutality.
But Nwadike says he is steadfast in a mission to help “heal and narrow the social, political and racial divide that currently exists throughout our country.”
One of these moments — his interactions with protesters and police during riots in Charlotte, North Carolina — is now featured prominently in a Budweiser Super Bowl LIV commercial. The spot highlights “typical Americans” doing extraordinary things.
“That’s a message that we really need right now,” Nwadike said of the ad. “What if we just did more good things for one another?”
Nwadike told FOX 5 that when he got a phone call about appearing in the commercial, he thought it was a joke at first.
“These are some of the biggest commercials that come on for the year, that everyone watches and talks about,” he said. “To be featured in such a way … It felt amazing. It was almost surreal.”
Watch an extended version of the commercial here: