Michael T. Smith
Juan Mann (One Man) returned to Sydney, Australia in 2004, after living in Europe for several years. He was depressed over his parent’s divorce. Most of his friends had moved on. It was just him. He sat for months. Alone and depressed, Juan Mann decided to make a difference and reach out. He made a sign that read, “Free Hugs” and stood at the Pitt Street Mall – one of the busiest streets in the center of Sydney. He put his arms around anyone who accepted his offer.
At first, he left his wallet at home, had a friend watch over him, and expected to be ridiculed. After fifteen minutes, a woman approached him. “My dog died today.” She said. “It’s also the first anniversary of my only daughter’s death. I could use a hug.”
Juan was quoted as saying, “That first woman, it was more than a hug; it meant something to her.”
People joined Mann. They opened their arms to others. His message spread across the city. Afraid of lawsuits, officials banned “Free Hugs”. The people revolted. More than 10,000 people signed a petition to allow him to continue his mission.
Shimon Moore, the lead singer of “The Sick Puppies” happened to see Juan. They hugged and became friends. Moore borrowed a video camera and filmed Juan giving hugs. When Mann’s grandmother died, Moore put the video together with his band’s song called, “All The Same” and posted the video on “YouTube” with the following caption:
“Sometimes, a hug is all we need. Free hugs is a real life controversial story of Juan Mann, a man whose sole purpose mission was to reach out and hug a stranger, to brighten up their lives.”
The video was a hit. It spread around the world. Juan has appeared on Oprah and several other major television shows. His idea continues to gain support and grow.
After his first day on Pitt Street, Juan wondered if others were doing the same. He found Amma – The Hugging Saint of India, Jason Hunter in Atlanta, Georgia, and Jayson Littman in New York.
Jayson started his hugging campaign the same year as Juan. They both felt a need to reach out to humanity. A financial analyst in Manhattan, Jayson believed New Yorkers could use a hug. From 2004 through to 2006, he spent one weekend afternoon a month holding his “Free Hugs” sign in his hands and opened his arms to anyone who needed human comfort.
Since then, Jayson’s mission has been taken over by others who believe – hugs for all. On the last Saturday afternoon of the month, you’ll find them gathered in Union Square in Lower Manhattan. They hold their signs high and offer their open arms to all who need a human touch.
The huggers worked the crowd. Most people ignored them or shook their heads to indicate they were not interested. Those who opened their arms in return, walked away with a smile on their face.
I felt a warmth – a glow – fill my heart. Ginny and I were going through rough times. Money was scarce, bill collectors called on a regular basis. We were stressed and worried, but on that afternoon, for a brief moment, it was all forgotten. It took a simple hug to make everything better.
See Juan Mann and the song about him here