"Spread the Love," The Great Unifier of Panama City

Have you seen the “Spread the Love” guy? If you live in Panama City, it’s likely you’ve seen Decaris Hunter. He can be spotted on sidewalks and street corners throughout the area wearing glowing neon colors and holding up large cardboard motivational signs reading “Spread the love,” “A positive attitude changes everything,” or in the midst of the pandemic, “Keep the love alive.”

People will park their cars at red lights to get out and speak with him, they’ll honk incessantly at his presence and everyone wants his photo.

Being as curious as everyone else, I decided to speak to him. We met on the corner of 98 and 77th by the old snow cone stand.

Decaris told me he began his new life as the “Spread the Love guy” in June of 2018. He had lost his job, and being understandably upset, his wife told him to do something to get his mind off of it. He had his first motivational sign from his former job laying around and decided to take it to the streets.

He self admittedly claimed that people thought he was crazy at first, his movement didn’t pick up until the world ended in October of 2018. Decaris lost everything to Hurricane Michael, but something told him to get back out there.

Personally speaking, seeing his motivational message on the street corners of Panama City while doing relief work was something of a light in the darkness. In the midst of the chaos and violence one man was raising spirits, a sign of hope for the future.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the movement gained traction. His social media presence exploded and people quickly gathered around his message of positivity. Decaris became a local icon, which became evident after Pier Park tried to remove him from their property.

He was conducting what he calls the “Spread the Love Show,” where he holds up his motivational signs, talks to people, and shouts phrases such as “Spread the love,” or “have a blessed day!” Security called the police on him and he was trespassed from the property. Quickly after, the public lash back was so immense and unprecedented that Pier Park sent him an official apology inviting him back to the facility.

To an outside observer that either doesn’t live here or wasn’t here during Hurricane Michael, his message can be confusing. You may think he’s a protester or trying to sell a product, which is most likely why security tried to prevent him from entering the Trump Rally in Panama City in May of 2019. He ended up getting in regardless and says he was welcomed warmly by the attendees.

After speaking to him, it became apparent his only goal is to bring people together.

“I started this back during the police shooting controversy,” said Decaris. “On one side you had groups such as Black Lives Matter, and on the other side you had pro-police groups. Neither side was accomplishing anything other than dividing us further.”

“I want to set an example for kids,” said Decaris. “They see adults bullying each other and spreading negativity while not actually resolving the issues that matter to everyone. I need to show kids there’s another way to do things and come together that doesn’t involve violence.”

He expressed concern that local political parties may be more concerned with infighting and winning the next election rather than legitimately making things better for the people that live in their districts. Decaris mentioned the number of hungry children in the city, and how it doesn’t seem to be of interest to any of the divided political parties. He hopes his movement will bridge that divide, so we can begin working together on issues we all care about.

This message seems to have resonated with a lot of people on all sides of the spectrum. While speaking with him, people in nice cars, beater cars, cop cars, bikes, black people, white people and everyone in between stopped to wave and get pictures.

The “Spread the Love” movement sets the example for how we can begin to make life better for everyone.

Decaris is leading by example. He made it clear that the goal of the “Spread the Love” movement isn’t to attract attention to himself, but to bring people together while bringing them closer to god.

In the saga of Decaris Hunter, we can all learn the resilience, diligence and unity that is needed to make a lasting and meaningful change to Panama City and society as a whole. Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, black, white, rich or poor, we can all be a little bit nicer to each other and “Spread the Love.”