2017 is quickly becoming the Year of the Protest.
By mid-March, an already increasing number of rallies and demonstrations have made headlines across the country. Protests can be a powerful catalyst in creating cultural change — but despite their peaceful nature, tranquil gatherings can turn into aggressive confrontations in a flash. That’s where Ken Nwadike Jr. comes in.
Known for his Free Hugs Project, Nwadike burst on the scene in 2014, hugging runners at the Boston Marathon and grabbing thousands of YouTube views in mere hours. Today Nwadike emphasizes peacekeeping efforts and de-escalating violence at protests, riots, and political rallies — and as a motivational speaker to college-aged students.
Nwadike visited SJC Long Island on March 7 to tell his story and spread his message of peace and compassion to the student body of St. Joseph’s (and get some good hugs in while he was at it).
Before gaining fame for his renowned hugs, Nwadike spent his youth living in homeless shelters with his mother and siblings. In high school he became a star track athlete, earning a college scholarship to run track and field, and even holding a brief professional running career with the Nike Farm Team, an Olympic development program based at Stanford University. Shortly after that, Nwadike founded Superhero Events, an endurance event production company that hosts charity runs and walks to raise funds for homeless youth shelters in Southern California.
Yet it wasn’t until a fateful failure to qualify that Nwadike’s calling came into action. Nwadike was training to participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon when 23 seconds changed his life.
“While viewing the devastation of the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, I was determined to be a participant in the next race,” Nwadike said. “I failed to qualify by just 23 seconds, so I decided to attend the event in a different way. 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.”
After the 2014 Boston Marathon Hugs video hit YouTube, Nwadike became a viral sensation. Over the next two years, he began to travel to areas of social turmoil to offer a warm presence of peace, such as his September 2016 visit to Charlotte, North Carolina, during riots in response to the Keith Lamont Scott shooting.
Nwadike was most recently featured in Google’s 2016 Year in Search video as a highlight among some of the year’s most defining moments. He’s made many speaking appearances worldwide, including on CNN, USA Today, Good Morning Britain and BBC News. And now, at SJC Long Island.