Today’s episode was recorded before COVID-19 and the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and although it may not seem like the right time to be promoting hugs …we believe the Time to be Kind to all manKIND is NOW!
This is our humble way of virtually embracing all black lives around the world who – not only matter – but deserve to be seen, heard, understood, valued, respected and have the light shine on them & their stories in positive ways. #wePARK
Learn more about Big Dave Hugs the World in 80 Days Tour
Follow on Instagram @thehumanhigh5
ThankQ to our Episode PARKner: Chris Colina Realtor
Interested in sponsoring Time to be Kind with Marly Q.? Click here
Hi, PARKer, I’m Marly Q and welcome to Episode 12 with David Sylvester, better known around the world as Big Dave.
This man is awesome, you may think I’m exaggerating, but this PARKer from Philadelphia has personally hugged and high fived over half a million people, from newborns, to 100-year olds, in 50 states and 42 countries since the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. This interview was recorded before the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and even though I recognize right now may not seem like the right time to be promoting hugs …
…the Time to be Kind to all mankind is now.
I’m offering this episode as a humble way of collectively wrapping our arms around the world, to embrace all black lives who not only matter, but deserve to be seen, heard, understood, valued, respected, and have the light shine on them in positive ways.
So, today, let’s let the light shine brightly on Big Dave’s story and learn how he was able to turn a tragedy into inspiration to be the spark and hug the world.
[01:25] Marly Q: If you could just give us a brief overview of how this all got started, how did you turn this tragedy that we all experienced into inspiration?
[01:34] Big Dave: You know, it was after I lost my friend, I wanted to do something. I think if anybody that was alive then or really remembers that time, is that I think we all felt powerless. I think we all felt like we were, you know, potential victims, just being an American, just for being in a big city, we all just felt like, you know, something as innocent as a plane that just transports people could be turned against us. And I mean, it was something that I just, I didn’t like that feeling and, you know, and that coupled with the fact that I just lost my friend, I wanted to do something. And what I found is that, you know, when I bicycled across the United States to honor my friend, is that almost everybody I met, regardless of what they wanted to express, whether it was patriotism, camaraderie, whether it was consoling me, they all expressed it with a hug and it was something that, you know, I just, I really didn’t think of at the time, but it was just, I was just out there just honoring my friend by biking across the United States. And, you know, what I found is that, you know, like I said, after it was all over, the one thing that was common in almost everything, in everyone that I met was that they just wanted a hug. So, I really thought about that and I wanted to continue this sort of this very unique view of humanity that I had. So, I next rode my bicycle across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town, and it was the same thing even though we’re a few years removed from September 11th, even though, you know, I was in a different continent, different countries, I mean, people still wanted to connect via a hug. And so, I continued on by biking Asia, North America again, Australia and everywhere I went, you know, once I really opened up my self and told my story, people just wanted to connect and just wanted a hug. And it wasn’t even something that I was overtly asking for, it was just there.
And so, one thing kind of like I said, it just sort of led one thing to another in the first overt Hug and High Five tour was in Australia in 2014, when I just, not only biked from Sydney to Melbourne, I also challenged myself to hug and high five a thousand people in a month, no signs, no preamble, just going up to people and you know, sharing my story and say, “Hey, you want a hug?”, and then taking a picture of it. And when I was able to do that in 22 days, you know, 1000 people in 22 days it was, it really got me thinking about really going after it and just trying to hug and high five as many people as I could. So, you know, and that’s kind of just a brief overview of how it all started. I just wanted to do something to honor a friend and just, you know, I think like anything, when you do something new, you, you know, you stop and you take stock of what happened and, you know, it’s been interesting because that is the one thing that sort of, everybody wants, you know, and especially as we’ve gotten more and more, you know, polarized in terms of politically or gender, this or whatever, I mean, the one thing that really cuts through all that is just hugs and high fives and so, it’s been good.
[04:56] Marly Q: Nothing beats a human touch. Have you ever had an experience where your hug or your high five wasn’t welcome?
[05:06] Big Dave: It’s all the time. I mean, listen, it’s not that deep to me. And so, I get it and if you don’t want it, you don’t want it, and that’s fine.
[05:14] Marly Q: Keep going.
[05:15] Big Dave: Yeah, just keep it moving man.
[05:17] Marly Q: And keep it going because the large majority of people really need almost that persistence of kindness. So, they may not, you know, they see you that first time around, they don’t really trust or you know, see it as a gimmick, like you said, or, “Oh, just trying to get attention”, right? Some people may see it that way.
[05:34] Big Dave: Some people do.
[05:35] Marly Q: But you see it as persistence and you see a consistent behavior, I think the kindness shines through when people see that you’re really just trying to give and be available to people.
[05:45] Big Dave: Well, I will say that one of the nicest texts that I ever got, was from a guy that apologized for not hugging me. I had an event in Virginia Beach, and he wrote to me that he was in a coffee shop where I was and thought that I was selling something and thought that this was some sort of, you know, cheesy event and he said, but you know, he never saw any money exchanged and he said that everybody that walked away from me, he said, he thought it was it was interesting that whatever I was selling, everyone was hugging me after they purchased it.
And so, he said that, you know, he looked into me and into my story after he left, and he said, you know, “I really shouldn’t have just judged you. And, you know, I apologize. I owe you a hug the next time I see you.”.
And so, it’s, you know, sometimes people have their own misconceptions about what things are, about who people are and stuff like that, and that’s cool. You know, it’s, I get it. I mean, I think we all do it from time to time. And, you know, I applaud this guy for just being you know, man enough to admit, “Hey, listen man, I was wrong, you know? I was incorrect in my assumption.”.
[07:02] Marly Q: I think that’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I’m sure that in your travels and where you’ve been all over the world, you’ve encountered some of that and that’s why I brought it up. I mean, you’re an African American man, and I’m sure in places that you’ve seen, or that you’ve visited, you’ve been the first black man that people have ever seen and you’re coming up and hugging them, right? So, that experience must be unique.
[07:24] Big Dave: That is, yeah, that is definitely true. There’s a lot of places where, you know, especially throughout Asia, I mean, let’s be real, I mean, there are a lot of places in Africa where they hadn’t experienced, they hadn’t met an African American before so it’s been interesting to hold the flag, so to speak for black Americans around the world, but I mean, that’s why I go in hugging and high fiving, I go in smiling, I go in clear, because I want to make it easier for the next person. You know, I want the next brother that comes behind me to have you know, an even easier time than I have, you know going places and stuff like that.
[08:09] Marly Q: I think that’s awesome and an incredibly powerful way to PARK (Perform Acts of Random Kindness). Let me ask you big Dave, have you ever felt, kind of like burnt out or drained from hugging so many people or hearing so many stories that are you know, kind of emotionally charged? And if you have, how do you recharge yourself? How do you PARK for yourself?
[08:28] Big Dave: You know what? I’m burnt out now, this interview’s over.
[08:31] Marly Q: Oh no! Come back, virtual hug!
[08:37] Big Dave: I am, there are times. I mean, one of the things that really got me, one time I was at a hospital, was in the dementia wing and I talked to this woman who she said, “I know I’m not in my right mind but I’m good now and I think what you’re doing is simply beautiful.”, and she gave me a big hug, and I went back around to see her about 45 minutes later, and she had no idea who I was and that really broke my heart. I mean, it really got to me to the point, I mean, I just, I needed a long moment to get myself together. So, you know, I, you know, I told the people who were organizing the event, I was supposed to go somewhere else, I was like, “Look, we have to cancel this next thing and then I’ll go to the thing after that, but I just, I need to go somewhere and cry for a bit.”. And so, sometimes it’s hard to process some stuff, but, you know, because of that, I’m just, I’m very cognizant, I’m very aware of my feelings and my time, and yeah, I just get out. I just, I get out when I have to.
[09:51] Marly Q: I think that’s so important to share. Thank you for doing so. So, with all of the incredibly memorable and meaningful acts of kindness that I’m sure you have received throughout the world, is there any one in particular that stands out that really impacted you?
[10:08] Big Dave: You know, listen, if you were to ask me this question 10 times, I’d give you 10 different memorable moments. So, I am going to talk about something that happened when the first, the very first ride and we were in Wisconsin, and my friend and I were bicycling across the country, and we saw this woman, she’s jogging, and we’re talking to her and it was in the middle of nowhere, and we just had a nice conversation as she’s jogging, as we’re cycling along. And in the middle of the conversation, she just took off and she, you know, cut through some farmland and it was just, it was weird, because we were having a nice conversation, but it was, there was no goodbye, there was no, “I don’t want to talk to you.”, there was no, there was no nothing. It was just, no egress, it was just, she was just out.
And so, I was like, “That was just really weird.”. So, my friend and I kept cycling for a while, and we biked a little way up the road, we made a right and we’re biking, biking, biking and then all of a sudden, as we are biking down the road, we see two little kids standing on the side of the road with a sign and as we get closer, you know, little kids that you can see, they’re just jumping up and down. We can also see some balloons that are jumping up and down, and they’re waving us on, and we figured that maybe some other cyclists had bypassed them before and so they thought it was a bike race or something like that. So, we were prepared to ride right by him and then all of a sudden, right when we got up on the kids, the kids, you know, “Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.”, and we stopped and the kids were so excited and were like, “We heard you were coming.”. Like, “What are you talking about?”, and it was just weird talking to two little kids on the side of the road, and it was, I told my boy, Scott, I was like, “Yo, man, this is strange man, it’s time to go man.”. And he said, “Yeah, man, it’s time to go”. So, we were like, “Bye kids!”, and all of a sudden the kids said, “You can’t leave, the cookies aren’t done yet.”.
And we’re like, “What are you talking about?”, and then all of a sudden the woman that we had just talked to who, you know, apparently what she had done, had darted through farmland to get to the back of her house to tell her family, “Hey, look, there’s some cool cyclists that are coming by.”, and she threw some cookies in the oven, and, excuse me, the balloons were left over from her mother’s birthday party the day before. See, you know, the kids made a sign that said, “Go bikers.”, and all of a sudden, like all of this happened just in a relatively short amount of time. And she said, “I knew you were going to be coming right past our house.”.
And so, we ended up staying, you know, sitting on a porch with this woman that we had met and her family and these two little kids, I mean, just for probably about 45 minutes, you know, just and that was just the random act of kindness. Just a random– just random. And it was just something that really let me know that, you know, there really are some very, very, very good people out there and a lot of times, if you just give people the chance, give people the opportunity, good things will happen. And I think that, you know, I think in general, I mean, it’s, you know, it’s all about the energy that you put out, it’s all about what you engender. I mean, if you are constantly looking for the bad side of people, it’s, I mean, there’s, you know, look, if you want trouble, it’s out there. It’s out there, you know, in droves. But at this, you know, conversely, if you want goodness, it’s out there, it’s out there as well. You just have to want it and that’s it and it’s not going to be easy, you know, just like anything, you know, but if you want it, it is out there.
And I think that’s the important thing to tell people. I mean, you know, it’s just with my story, I have hugged a half a million people that means I have easily encountered a million, a million and a half people in 19 years. If I want to really look at it from a really crappy lens, you know, I’ll be like, “Oh my god.”, you know, I’m going to be constantly focused on the people that didn’t hug me and how I choose to look at it is the people that did hug me, how I choose to look at it is, the people where I did have good connections, how I choose to look at it is, you know, all of the smiles that I’ve seen, I’ve now seen, you know, half a million smiles in every color, shape, accent, you know that imaginable, and that’s how I choose to look at it. And I think it’s, you know, I would say that anybody that’s listening to this, in fact, if you’re listening to this podcast, you obviously believe that there’s good things out there, you believe that there’s good people out there and, that’s it, let that be, you know the bedrock of your day, that there are good people out there. And that’s it and so, it’s in belief.
I think it’s important that for anybody that is, you know, on a mission, whatever that mission is, is to really, you know, remember why you’re in this.
You know, I’m in this for good reasons, I’m in here for you know, for happy reasons. So, like I said, if you ask me this question again in an hour, I’ll give you a completely different answer that is just as vivid to me. Because that’s why I got into this. And so, I think there are tough times, you know, it ain’t free, you know, it comes at a cost, it comes at a cost in terms of time, money and everything, you know, it’s a lot. But when it does, when I do think about the mounting costs and stuff like that, I have to remember that woman in Wisconsin, I have to remember the smile on those kids’ faces, I have to remember all the good times and I’ve had so many good times, and I’ve had so many beautiful moments. And that’s what I have to remember in order to continue on and that’s what I focus on all the time, is the good times.
[16:52] Marly Q: Oh, Dave, you are my definition of a superhero. You know, this podcast is really about shining the light on you know, the everyday regular, if you will, person that has this superpower of kindness within them, right? So, you found your bike, you found your why, you turned, you know, a tragic moment into inspiration to go out and pedal the world for 19 years and we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. And you know, for those listening out there that might think like, “Wow, you know, I can’t do you know, what big Dave is doing.”, I just want this conversation to remind everyone listening is, and I think you say it, I’m quoting you is, “Find your own bike.”, what is it for you?
[17:33] Big Dave: I mean, yeah, find your own thing. I mean, you can do it. I mean, listen, it’s great to hear somebody that’s 19 years into a story and then you know, but then you know, sometimes people think, “Oh my god, I can’t do that.”, it hasn’t always been 19 years. You know, I remember when it was five years in and when it was 10 years and when it was two years in and it’s, like I said, it hasn’t been easy, but that’s why I focused in on the good times, I’ve focused in on all those smiles. That’s why I’ve stayed in contact with a lot of those people and with social media now, it’s a lot easier to stay in contact with those people and sort of build your own coalition, build your own platform. But it’s, but stay at it, and it doesn’t and listen, if you listen to my story, it wasn’t always hugs and high fives it was, you know, it sort of grew into that. So, don’t think that, you know, whatever your theme of goodness is today that it has to stay that way, it has to stay good, but it doesn’t always have to stay that way. And then when you are true to yourself, no one can take you under, you know, no one can take you down and you have the freedom to change direction and grow in the way that you want to grow.
And so, I would just say, you know, for anybody that is listening to this podcast, if you find yourself down, if you find yourself doubting, if you find yourself, you know, wondering, “Can you still stay in the game?”, you know, call me and let’s talk about it. My number is 267-252-1974, I only got one frigging phone and that’s it. And so, just call me, you want to talk about it, I’ll listen, I will listen.
There was one time when I was, this is early on, this is probably like the fourth year, the fourth or fifth year when I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do it. I can’t afford it. I can’t you know, I’m paying for these trips out of my own pocket, I can do it.”. And so, one of my co workers and good friends was sitting with me while I was in the gym and I had the wanted ads out, and she was like, “What are you doing?”, I said, “I can’t do this man. I got to; I’m done. I got to find a real job, a real job that pays more, this, that, and the other.”, or whatever, and I said, “I’m done.”. And, you know, my friend got angry at me and snatched the wanted ads out of my hand and I was like, you know, “What’s your problem?”, and she’s like, “Dave!”, she said, you know, “You have no idea how many of us live through you. How many of us, you know, are always you know, when you leave the room, we talk about the cool things that you do in the world, the cool things that you say, the cool things that happen.”, she said, “You make us all stronger.”. And she said, “If you can’t hack it, then what about the rest of us?”. And so, she’s like, “You have to hang in this for the rest of us.”. And she started opening up about times that she wanted to quit, but I was just, I was doing my own thing, and she said and was like, “You know what? I’m going to hang in there for a little bit longer.”. So, she was like, “Dave, please, please just hang in there for another week. I’m sure something will come.”. So, that was Sunday, Tuesday, I got a call from a teacher that said she wanted me to speak to her students and she said that she couldn’t pay me but she did read that I joked one time that I will work for food and she said that, “If you will let me buy you lunch that day, anywhere you want, I would love to have you speak to my students.”. And so, I was like, “Wow, all right, well, this is paying off.”. I mean, it’s not paying off in the way that I want but it is paying off in food. And so, I had a nice lunch that day, but it was, you know, wasn’t the lunch it was the fact that something did happen and how I chose to look at it was like, “You know what? Somebody is listening to me out there.”, and I hung in there for another week. And then a few weeks later, something else broke for me.
So, for the people that are out there that are at that point where they’re picking up, you know, picking up those wanted ads, either literally or metaphorically, you know, just call me, I understand what it’s like, you know, to struggle. I understand what it’s like to want to quit a million frigging times over. I understand this, but you know, but if you find yourself down and doubting, really, if you find yourself ready to get out, just call me. Like I said, 267-252-1974, I’m @thehumanhigh5 on Instagram, I’m very easy to spot. You know, and let’s talk about it. And more importantly, let’s talking about it, let’s keep you in the game. Let’s keep you in the game of life, let’s keep you in the game of happiness.
[22:24] Marly Q: Thank you so much for sharing that, I got emotional while you were sharing because I’ve been “in this kindness spreading game” myself since I was 10 years old and as a “business” for about 10 years now. And you know, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is when we produced our first big 5K event, our first big fundraising event that with no sponsors, no big email list, I mean, it was totally out of my pocket, my husband’s or my boyfriend at the time, who wasn’t even my husband yet; he married me luckily, even after everything I put him through. And we did this back four or five years all on passion, all on drive, all about the mission and man, did I burn out and I hit “bottom” of, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t afford this, I cannot keep this engine moving and try and run a business and make you know my bills.”, and it was just one of those really low times which I wish I had your phone number because I would have really needed a talk and a virtual hug and it really is about the people that you surround yourself with that’s so powerful that keep me in the game, keep me focused on the mission, keep me focused on the why we do this, and really starting this podcast was a big journey for me and it’s another way of creating an event, an online virtual event and to keep this movement going, finding a different way, right? That’s not so cost burdensome like a huge event, right?
Find a different way to continue moving the mission and the movement forward because the truth is, the world needs kindness now more than ever, the world needs a hug now more than ever, and I know you agree with that a hundred thousand percent.
For those listening. I want them to follow your journey, to continue following your journey and supporting Big Dave Hugs the World in 80 days. I know that you’re working on this now and for, you know gearing up for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, how can people connect with you virtually online and support Big Dave Hugs the World?
[24:25] Big Dave: You know, support, I’ll just say this, support comes in a lot of different ways. Support can come obviously in the form of $1 but support can be in the form of a like, it can be in the form of a suggestion, it can be in the form of an encouraging word, you know, so, I would just say whoever, whatever it is that you want to support, whether it be me, you, whatever, you know, an artist, any kind of artist, you know, just support them, you know, support them in any way that you can, whatever you like, support it, to keep it going because the person that’s running that, you know, maybe a woman that, like, you know, is just doing this on pure passion and stuff like that. And she needs to know, “Hey, listen, you know, does anybody out there care?”, you know, and, right. And somebody like me who’s just like, you know, “I’m just out there trying to hug people and stuff like that, you know, and it’s just, and, you know, I need to know, does anybody out there care?”. You know, I go to business meetings a lot of times that people are like, you know, “This is silly. You know, this is silly; we’re not going to fund you, we’re not going to sponsor you.”. “All right, that’s okay. That’s a business decision. I get that.”, but then all of a sudden, you know, the, you know, and I could focus on that but what I do focus on is, all of the emails and the texts and stuff that I get from people around the planet, who love what I’m doing. When I went to Time Square on Black Friday to go hug people for the holidays in 1 10 minutes span, I got texts from people in Alaska, London, in Israel who said, “I’m so happy for what you’re doing. You know, I’m so happy.”, you know and that’s it. And that’s enough, that support, you know made me warm on that cold day, that support made me smile a little bit more, that support is what I needed. So, you know for people out there, support your artist.
[26:29] Marly Q: I love it. We could talk forever Big Dave, I know you got a busy day, maybe a plane to catch soon. Thank you so much for making the time to be kind today and joining us in this podcast and just sharing your light, your love, your smiles, your hugs, virtually with all of us.
[26:47] Big Dave: Thank you, bye-bye.
I told you Big Dave was awesome. He’s got so many uplifting stories to share so, we’ll definitely invite him back to hear all about his adventures hugging the world.
This episode was sponsored by Chris Colina Realtor, one of our founding PARKners who immediately enlisted to serve in the US Armed Forces shortly after 9/11 and now serves as a one of a kind realtor helping people buy or sell their home. Connect with @chriscolinarealtor on Instagram & give him a virtual hug & high5 for supporting Time to be Kind with Marly Q.