Hope is an incredible thing.
We’ve all watched as cities across the country have literally burned in the wake of the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by an ex-police officer in Minneapolis.
But don’t let the hate broadcast all over cable news steal hope from you. There is goodness happening around the country. Wrongs are being made right and people are coming together, even if you aren’t seeing it.
I wrote about some of that earlier today.
This is perhaps one of the greatest moments of healing I have seen in the last week. On Saturday, Ken Nwadike, Jr., known to most people as the “Free Hugs Guy,” led an army of volunteers who cleaned up a Target in Minneapolis destroyed last week by violent rioters.
It was not just beautiful because he gathered volunteers of every skin color and creed to help clean up, but because Nwadike spoke so gracefully with dissenters who took issue with his efforts to paint over the graffiti that lined the walls of the retailer.
He listened first and then responded.
“I appreciate you expressing your concerns to me,” Nwadike said. “I think they are legitimate, honestly. I have nothing against you, whatsoever. I think it’s a legitimate concern. But as someone who grew up in south central Los Angeles, this sort of stuff was in my neighborhoods regularly, and I hated seeing it.”
He then expressed his concerns that so much of the graffiti and destruction in Minneapolis and elsewhere is only serving to distract from the real issue: the injustice of Mr. Floyd’s death.
“Cities should be beautiful,” he explained. “That’s not representative of the city. And people are saying, ‘Well, that’s [Mr. Floyd’s] memorial,’ so you plan on just leaving this up? Nah. There’s other ways to memorialize him. But burning down your own city? That’s what I’ve never understood. If it happened here, why destroy your own community? If they felt like there were certain areas where they wanted to let out their frustration and burn down, I get that. I’m just as angry as the next person. But I don’t believe in destroying your own community to express your rage.”
Nwadike and the woman who disagreed with his work to clean up the area ended their conversation peacefully. “If COVID wasn’t around,” he said, “I’d give you a hug.”
The “Free Hugs Guy” said such violence and destruction are counterproductive to the kind of restoration and reformation protesters are calling for. For what it’s worth, Mr. Floyd’s own family is begging for the violence to stop.
As far as the vulgar stuff on the exterior walls of the destroyed Target, Nwadike said he doesn’t “even understand why that’s a debate” to cover it up.
“That’s what should be happening here,” he said at the end of the video, pointing to a group of people covering up expletives graffitied onto the wall. “It’s members of the community — whether black, white, Latino, all different backgrounds — coming together, activists, community organizers, people coming together to paint it up.”
Hope is a breath of fresh air in difficult times.