Drop those torches and pitchforks and open your arms wide. Here comes a free hug! Ken Nwadike, a former track star and founder of the Hollywood Half Marathon charity run, stopped by the microscopic town of Presque Isle to spread the words of peace and positivity. “For the past few years, our mission is to unite the country,” Ken said.
Ken lived in a homeless shelter in Los Angeles during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. After the riots, he lived in homeless shelters until his junior year of high school, when the school’s track coach contacted him and gave him the opportunity to run. He amazed the entire state of California when his mile run time was 4:17, which landed in the top three fastest high schoolers in the state at that time. After high school, he pursued and had a very successful career in the sport, eventually landing a partnership with Nike.
Toward the end of his career, Ken knew that he wanted to help people. He started with helping residents in various homeless shelters in Los Angeles. Among Ken’s many efforts to raise money and awareness of the ever-growing homeless youth pandemic in Los Angeles, he started the Hollywood Half Marathon in 2012, with the help of several celebrities and running enthusiasts. “It surprised me just how many young people in these homeless shelters had already given up. People in their late teens-early twenties had no hopes nor desires to improve their lives. I wanted to show these young that it’s not too late to turn everything around,” Ken explained.
In 2013, the Boston Marathon terrorized people across the country. Ken knew that he wanted to help the people of Boston, no matter what. “While viewing the devastation of the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, I was determined to be a participant in the next race. 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.” What began as a small act of kindness started a movement. Another goal of the Free Hugs Project is to go into huge riot zones across the country and serve as peacekeepers.
Ken made a stop at UMPI to spread the word about the project. Added as an extra sweetener, the first 40 people were rewarded with a free Free Hugs T-shirt. Violet Washburn, the head of the student activities office, was more than pleased to have this event on campus. “I’m also a very happy and loving person. And I wanted more people to feel that. When I heard that Ken Nwadike was coming up to Maine to speak at a few schools, of course I contacted his agent at Conscious Campus and picked a date.”
Conscious Campus is an organization that focuses on providing inspiring programs that build social and cultural awareness, foster community and promote greater acceptance and respect. They have been organized since May 2012. Ken’s talk was just one of over 300 talks across the country since he started.
Luckily it appears that he won’t stop any time soon.