Published On: Thu, Jul 21st, 2016

A Large-Scale Act of Kindness

C. Ron Allen

C. Ron Allen

Have you ever found yourself wishing for a hug? I mean, an arm gently around your neck or a warm embrace to send a simple message of caring.

Last Saturday morning, I had one of the greatest experiences in a long time when I found myself among about 15 local residents giving away hugs and high-fives in Delray Beach.

Local resident and community servant Chuck Halberg organized the movement to give the All-America City residents an inexpensive way to do something positive for his community.The idea was sparked in the wake of recent violence between police officers and the public in

The idea was sparked in the wake of recent violence between police officers and the public in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Minnesota; and Dallas.

The week of tragedies had been tough on people emotionally and mentally and Chuck decided the city needed just a little more love. He saw a need to bridge the divide, so, being the kind and pure-hearted American he is, Chuck organized it the “Free Hugs”.

He had seen Ken Nwadike Jr’s. ‘Straight Outta Compton — Hug tha Police’ video on social media and shared it, with the plan to do something locally. Someone asked him when and where, and as the saying goes, “It caught on like wildfire.”

Earlier this year, Nwadike, a young black man wearing a black T-shirt, that reads “FREE HUGS” with a matching, hand-held sign, filmed himself as he approached police officers in Los Angeles. Officers opened their arms wide to embrace, some saying they were hoping he’d come give them a hug. Most recently, we saw him opening his arms to supporters at a Donald Trump rally and a Bernie Sanders rally.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, the group of residents — black, white, young and old — left the Café Bleu and headed west along Atlantic Avenue. They hugged any and almost everyone with a pulse along the way. Most accepted hugs, a handful, maybe three, declined and a few, instead, offered handshakes. I must also mention, among the group were several people who are huggers to their core.

They stopped at the Green Market and the Fairfield Hotel. Between the raindrops, they dashed into convenience stores, barber shops and hugged patrons in chairs. Many people stopped to get their free hug, some even posed for a picture.

A man from Savannah, Georgia, was travelling to a ministers’ convention in Broward, stopped at a gas station and was shocked to see the love he received from the group.

“Absolutely!” he said when Michael Coleman, the Community Improvement director asked him if he could give him a hug. “That’s how God would have wanted it to be. With all the frightening, sorrowful, tragic things happening in our world today, I think everybody needs a hug.”

The scenes generated smiles and tears — and a wave of people paying the random act of kindness forward.

In two hours, they gave and got around 450 hugs and a few fist bumps from strangers. I am sure something as simple and inexpensive as what I dubbed, Saturday’s “Squeeze along the Ave” brightened someone’s day especially if they were having a hard time or going through something.

With everything that is going on in this country, I see clearly what Chuck was trying do. He was just being a tiny pebble in the pool hoping to create that ripple. He was just trying to be the difference and the change that we want to see in the world, that’s all. All it took was something simple as giving a hug.

I also think it was a way to get the Delray Beach community connected to the conversation around homelessness, addictions, mental illness and poverty. Initiatives such as Saturday’s “Squeeze along the Ave” help change the narrative around those issues.

 

 

C. Ron Allen can be reached at crallen@DelrayBeachTribune.com or 561-665- 0151.

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