GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – A Muslim college student stood outside for hours Saturday asking for people to trust him and give him a hug.
Reporter Krystyne Brown found him downtown Greenville opening his arms to promote peace following the attacks in Paris.
“It kind of gives me hope, you know,” said Alend Barzenji, about the response.
His arms and heart were open to any stranger that passed by. But his eyes were covered, to put his trust in the people of Greenville.
“He’s blindfolded, he doesn’t know what people are going to do to him. It’s just brave of him,” said Nathan Noel, who paused to read his signs shortly before reaching out to Alend.
Alend is Muslim. He’s lived in the Upstate with his family since he was a child. “I moved here when I was 5 with my parents in hopes of better opportunity,” he added.
After the recent attacks in Paris, Alend says he saw a lot of backlash for Islamic faith. That is until he saw a video of another Muslim man blinded, being hugged by strangers. He knew he had to do the same for his home.
“I didn’t expect that much positivity, but I had faith in Greenville,” said Alend. “It’s something that shows love, peace and acceptance and that’s what this is all about.”
As he stood there, for two hours chilly and at some points in the rain, response was better than he expected. Many passed by but many also accepted his embrace.
“Especially in that first hour, I mean it was just back to back to back,” he recalled. “Not many could see, but I was tearing up behind the blindfold.”
Alend is hoping those who took pictures here will post them to social media with the hashtags #HugsforHumanity and #NotAllMuslimsAreTerrorists to combat the negativity he’s seen. Many have already utilized them on Facebook.
“I’m not about the negativity. I always try to spread the positive vibes.” He hopes those who didn’t take the free hugs will at least keep an open mind to the Muslim community. “Some of us just really want better for the world.”
For now, at least he knows that he and many strangers can still put their trust in humanity.
“You should just treat people like they are people,” Noel commented, after hugging Alend a second time.
Alend and his friend say they are making a video of the event to put online. He says he only expected this to be a one-time event for Greenville, but after the positive response Saturday night, he says he might be giving out hugs again next weekend.