Free Hugs in the Swamp

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Ken Nkwadike hugging students after his presentation.

D. Khan, Co-Editor In Chief

Four years ago, peace activist Ken Nwadike Jr. walked into the Green Level auditorium to share his stories. Yesterday, he returned to the swamp.

Armed with nothing but a t-shirt promising “free hugs,” Nwadike constantly places himself in the heat of conflict. There, he deescalates the crisis and makes lifelong connections across both sides. He came to Green Level to share his story with the Gators.

Nwadike’s journey hasn’t been easy. Growing up with five siblings and no stable living situation, he was practically born with, as his mom described it, “a gift to gab” his way out of any tough spot. That gift only developed with time. Nwadike spoke about his first major project, a charity marathon across Hollywood Boulevard, where he raised over a million dollars for homeless youth. After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, he trained for a year to run himself; when he failed to qualify by just a few seconds, Nwadike put on his t-shirt for the first time and headed out to the race anyways.

From there, he became an easily-recognizable figure in protests around the country. Of course, being in a position like that instills fear, but Nwadike was adamant in refusing to let his terror stop him from standing up for what he believed. 

The world has changed a lot since Nwadike last visited Green Level. After finally being booked to speak at Harvard, his visit was canceled as the university shifted online. He had to adjust to Zoom calls and social distancing. And when restrictions finally began to list, he found himself in protests more violent and harrowing than any of us could bear. But Nwadike is as perseverent as he is hopeful, and the Gators were grateful to hear him speak again.

You can find the full interview with Ken Nwadike Jr. here.