In a sea of frustration and violence, one man went to war armed with only one thing: hugs.
In a now viral video, Ken Nwadike Jr. walked through Charlotte, North Carolina offering hugs to protestors demonstrating the shooting death of 43-year-old Keith Scott, showing grace and solidarity at a time and place where tensions run high.
Incredibly, he was able to help several change their attitudes, although he admitted losing patiences with a few. He posted on Facebook after the emotional evening:
A video posted to the Free Hugs Project Facebook page begins with a Ken Nwadike Jr. walking up to a police officer dressed in riot gear before locking him in a large embrace as dozens more officers look on.
“Thanks for being out here and being peaceful,” the officer tells the Nwadike during the seconds-long hug.
Nwadike then shakes a second officer’s hand before embracing him as well. Protesters behind the camera hurl criticism at him, and when he turns around and says, “It’s not even like that.”
“Staying neutral, that’s what’s important,” Nwadike says to the protesters while wearing a T-shirt lettered with the words “Free Hugs.”
The protesters continue to scream at the him, yelling expletives.
“Did he kill somebody?” Nwadike asks the protesters as he points to the first officer he hugged.
Nwadike tells the protesters that he “understands” what they’re saying and that he “hurts” just like they do, and it’s soon clear that he begins getting through to people.
“If one black person does something, right? Would you say that everyone black person is bad? If one cop does something, would you say that every cop is bad? None of these people here shot anyone,” Nwadike says, gesturing toward dozens of officers.
“I want peace, ultimately,” he says to the crowd, and demonstrators begin to rally around him.
“This uniform doesn’t make him a robot,” Nwadike says, referring to the officer he hugged, “just like your uniform, your skin color, doesn’t make you a criminal.”
The clip then cuts to a scene of dozens of protesters running after gunshots were fired. After that, protesters who recognize Nwadike from his movement approach him, demanding hugs.
“I gotta give you a hug, bro,” one protester says to him, smiling. “I just watched this…on Facebook.”
The video, posted Thursday morning,, came after a night of deadly demonstrations in Charlotte. It has garnered 21 million views in just over 24 hours.
In a comment, the Nwadike said it was “very risky and difficult” to be on the “frontline fighting for peace.” He admits that he “lost his patience with a few people,” but realized that he “got through to many and kept some from getting arrested.”
Nwadike ended the post: “Hate and violence won’t fix the damage that has been done, only love can do that.” He signed it, “Free Hugs Guy.”
We need so much more of this. Watch: