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Mentors take the time to show love, compassion after students say they've never been hugged by their fathers

As views of the video ticked up into the hundreds of thousands, mentors said they hope people understand the message.

ATLANTA — A group of men in Atlanta wants to make sure everyone is feeling the love this Valentine's Day. They're making the point with a video that's racked up more than a million views already -- showing Black men mentors hugging students - and telling them how much they are loved.

They said their message is simple - every kid deserves a hug. 

The video is short - just a few seconds of mentors at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate hugging the boys.

But organizer Travis Emory Barber said it was a long time coming.

"I just asked, 'who has never been hugged by their father?' And the hands just started going up, one by one by one by one. I just told him, 'come here. Come here,'" he said. 

He said he asked the boys if they had ever been hugged by their dad because growing up, he never had.

Principal of KIPP Atlanta Collegiate School Arthur Washington said it's a feeling a lot of the mentors in the room relate to.

"All of them raised their hands. And I realized if I thought of myself at that age, I would have raised my hand, too," he said. 

Mentors Lamont Johnson and Torrey Tomlinson had similar sentiments. 

"I thought about how I grew up in a single parent home, how I never had a hug from my father. Never talked to my father, never had that relationship. To hear another black male tell me they love me," said Johnson. 

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"An adult didn't tell me they loved me until I was in my adulthood. So I didn't know how to receive it as well. So I understood where those kids were coming from," said Tomlinson. 

Tomlinson said he recorded it because he wanted people to see how meaningful that connection is to these boys.

"Our scholars, the students that look like me, they aren't out here robbing, they aren't affiliating themselves with gangs and all of the other negative stories that I am sure you report on a daily basis. That is not the only narrative when it comes to us," said Washington. 

"The state of mind our young Black men are in right now, we just need to share something positive," said Tomlinson. 

As views of the video ticked up in to the hundreds of thousands, Johnson said he hopes people understand that message.

"This isn't a private thing that we are doing. This is hopefully something we can do to show other schools how they can embrace their kids. It can't just stop with the kids that are here. Because we have a whole world to save, it can't stop with KIPP,' said Johnson. 

But he said it can start with people seeing these men show affection and love.

"I want them to see the biggest, brownest man on earth, being so vulnerable, and available," said Barber.

And that everyone deserves it.

"Love has no gender. Love has no ethnicity, love has no address," he said. 

The men hope that schools across the country will see this video and be inspired to connect with the kids in their own classrooms like this.

They said it takes nonprofits and engaged community members to all wrap their arms around the next generation.

"How many of you have never been hugged by your Dad?" It was a hard question for Travis Barber to ask. He had always longed for that type of affection growing up and never got it. But as the hands in the classroom all went up, he says he started feeling less alone. "We all want a cheerleader. We all want to feel like someone loves us." A group of mentors is working with KIPP Charter School now to make sure ALL of their kids feel that. The men in that room all hugged the kids that day and told them how much they were valued, respected, and loved. And they were not afraid to show it. "I want them to see the biggest, brownest man on earth, being so vulnerable, and available. Love has no gender. Love has no ethnicity, love has no address."

Posted by Kaitlyn Ross 11Alive on Tuesday, February 14, 2023

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