Activist, officer reunite for first time since viral hug during Charlotte protests

Activist, officer reunite for first time since viral hug during Charlotte protests
(Source: Free Hugs Project YouTube)
(Source: Free Hugs Project YouTube)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The night of September 22, 2016 will likely go down in Charlotte's history as one of the darkest.

Uptown streets were crowded with thousands of protesters, explosions shook the air and anger was thick in the hearts of hundreds reacting to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott the night before.

It wasn't the kind of scene that seemed in any way appropriate for hugging, but Ken Nwadike Jr. put on his "Free Hugs" t-shirt and confronted the crowds anyway.

"I think it was the first time people saw me exchange that kind of heated dialogue right there on the front lines, before that they would just see my hug videos and ask what good does it do when he shows up anyway," Nwadike said.

Nwadike has claimed national attention as the "Free Hugs Guy".

He started making videos of himself hugging strangers and those videos went viral.

Nwadike then found himself very useful during protests following recent police shootings across the country.

On that Thursday night in Charlotte, as chaos shook the city, Nwadike was on the front lines trying desperately to keep the peace by engaging in dialogue with both police and protesters.

Stores had been looted, windows smashed, angry mobs of people were throwing M-80 firecrackers into the air, and Nwadike heard an officer call out to him.

"He said hey, how about one of those free hugs?" Nwadike said.

The officer, 6 feet 9 inches and 300 pound Chris Frunzi, was decked out in full riot gear and had just accepted Nwadike's invitation that was printed on his shirt, "Free Hugs".

"I was tired and dehydrated and my skin was burning from all the tear gas and I saw his shirt and said 'I know that guy," Frunzi said.

Frunzi had seen videos online of Nwadike hugging police officers after the Dallas police shootings.

"He looked at me kind of puzzled kind of like, 'Seriously now? You're in full riot gear," Frunzi said.

But Nwadike approached the officer and what happened after that has been shared on the internet hundreds of millions of times.

You could call it, "the hug heard round the world".

The two men embraced and right there in the middle of the chaos, a spark of humanity caught fire.

The image put both men in the national spotlight as a beacon of peace during a tumultuous time.

Wednesday morning, Nwadike flew back to Charlotte from his home in Los Angeles and met with Frunzi for the first time since the iconic photo.

They talked for hours about the photo and about life.

They shared their views on finding common ground in a world of division.

They sealed the bonds of a friendship that began with nothing more than a simple hug.

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