Peace activist spreads message of love at UNL

Produced by Zach Penrice, NewsNetNebraska

Ken Nwadike Jr. (WAH-dee-kay) is a peace activist, inspirational speaker and video journalist who travels the country in places of protest and riots to spread love and not violence. Four years ago, he started the “Free Hugs Project” which started as simply giving free hugs at marathons across America. In the last two years, however, the meaning of free hugs has changed from the literal translation.“It started as just that, free hugs,” Nwadike said. “But then it changed to a message of love, unity and equality. So, it means so much more now than just the two words on the shirt.”

Nwadike came to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Multicultural Center in September to talk with students about his life experiences and how important it is to be diverse in all walks of life.

Nwadike’s visit to UNL

“I think it’s very important that college campuses continue to bring in people from outside the campus because those speakers can share experiences that students might be able to connect with,” Nwadike said. “To bring in someone who is on the frontlines and can answer some of those tough questions is important to continue.”

Nwadike has traveled to some of the most troubled places over the last four years spreading his message of love and not hate. He was in Washington D.C. during the chaos amid the inauguration last January. Throughout inauguration day, riots spread throughout the city as Nwadike followed the violence looking to spread peace.

He also spent time in Charlottesville, Virginia at a white supremacy protest that received a great deal of national attention. It was at this protest where one of the peace activists was struck and killed by a white supremacist, an event that occurred right in front of Nwadike’s eyes. It’s in places like this, where love may be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, that increasingly inspires Nwadike to spread his message.

“Being in Charlottesville was really difficult to have experienced what I saw there, but what it did was renew my confidence in the work that I’m doing,” Nwadike said. “I left Charlottesville for a moment defeated, but then days later recharged, knowing that I need to continue this work and continue to make a difference otherwise we’ll see more tragedies like that.”

  • Ken Nwadike, an activist speaker from San Diego, CA, shares his experiences with students

Diversity at UNL

The topic of diversity and equality is the reason that Nwadike was invited to UNL’s campus to talk with students. The 2017 freshmen class at the university is not just the largest in the school’s history, but also the most diverse. However, Nebraska still ranks in the bottom-third in the Big 10 Conference when it comes to diversity. Interim Director at the Jacki Gaughan Multicultural Center, Charlie Foster, says that the university is happy with the diversity numbers increasing and that they will continue to rise as the student body grows.

“Quite frankly we live in a state where the numbers are low and so if we’re reaching out to students from our state, we’re going to have lower numbers,” Foster said. “So, preparing ourselves to accept students from across the country and the world allows us to increase that diversity.”

For Foster, having speakers like Nwadike on campus to meet with students and talk about some of the issues surrounding America has the potential to open up more discussion and positive thought among the younger generation.

“Having this opportunity to bring in a keynote speaker from outside of Nebraska to talk about issues is vital for our students,” Foster said. “We don’t get the diversity that we would want otherwise, and so seeking out for those who have diverse thought gives us an opportunity to reach our students in a different way.”

UNL student Austin Pena not only sees the importance of a diverse campus, but explains why people should care about being associated with a place that is diverse not just regarding race, but religion, ideas and culture as well.

“Life is full of changes. Yes, there are things you’re used to and things you like but ultimately there is change everywhere,” Pena said. “When you look back on your life, you’ll want to see that you’ve grown more, matured more and learned more, and that’s what makes diversity so important.”

Choosing love over hate is never easy. With what’s happening across the nation, love is even more challenging than usual to find. But there’s a quote from the Bible that Nwadike always remembers to keep him going. 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

“It’s something that I think everyone should abide by because the most important thing in life is love and without love we’re doomed,” Nwadike said. “If we can’t get along, why are we all here? Love is one of the greatest things in life and we need to embrace that message.”

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