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Charleston dad captures incredible hug photo proving love conquers all

by Alexandra Zaslow /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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Parker Nettles is only 3 years old, but he knows what love looks like when he sees it.

While walking with his parents in downtown Charleston on Sunday after a gathering called "Charleston United" to honor the victims of the tragic shooting last week, the little boy passed two women giving out free hugs. Before dad (and photographer) John Nettles could even get his camera ready to take their picture, his son went running toward Taylor Willis for a big embrace.

“To Parker, it’s just a hug,” Nettles told TODAY.com. “He has no idea how meaningful it really is.”

"Free Hugs #CharlestonStrong."
On Sunday June 21, local parishioners from churches across the Charleston area took part in "Charleston United," an emotional prayer and worship gathering to honor the victims of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting. One of the worshipers was photographer and father John Nettles, who captured this powerful moment between his 3-year-old son Parker and a fellow South Carolinian Taylor Willis.John Nettles

The city was full of emotion that day, with over 10,000 people gathered to honor the victims of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting. All of the churches rang their bells together at 10 a.m. and the family’s church hosted an event with local celebrities and news anchors, who shared their thoughts on the shooting.

“I felt a heavy vibe that day,” Nettles said. “Everyone was singing, rejoicing and crying and at the same time you could see that people were internally hurt by what happened.”

Nettles shared the photo with his Facebook friends and wrote:

“This picture was hard to take and hard to edit… because Parker doesn’t understand how powerful that hug is. To him it’s just a hug. He doesn’t understand that he’s hugging a black woman and that he’s a white boy. He doesn’t understand that just last week there was another white boy who decided to murder several black people — just because they’re black. To him, it’s just a hug with another person. It’s probably the most beautiful hug I’ve ever witnessed.”

"Free Hugs #CharlestonStrong."
Nettles, his wife Lindsey, and their son Parker.John Nettles

Nettles and his wife, Lindsey, say they've made a conscious effort to expose their son to love since the day he was born. Teaching him that there are both “loving hands” and “angry hands,” they've encouraged him to use his hands for positive actions, like high fives or hugs. They also enrolled him in a school where he has classmates from a lot of different backgrounds.

Last year, Nettles saw Parker rubbing a black student's arm, and says that was the first time his son became aware of the concept of skin color.

“He knows the difference between black and white, but he doesn’t totally understand what’s going on in Charleston right now,” Nettles said. “He’s just happy to see everyone happy.”

Even with all the hatred the city has seen recently, everyone came together later that day to hold hands and march across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge to honor the victims.

The family drove over the bridge as Parker looked out the window in amazement. He even learned the peace sign signal and enjoyed waving and saying “peace” to everyone walking by.

“I’m glad Parker gets to witness our city respond in this way and prove that love wins,” Nettles said. “Going through these experiences will shape him into a much better person than my wife and I could’ve ever done raising him.”

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