Positive emotions: Philly man spreads cheer through hugs and high fives

DOVER — If there were more people like Dave Sylvester in the world it would be a much happier place, said Dover resident Marsha Young.

As Ms. Young strolled into the Governor’s Café at 144 Kings Highway on Monday morning, she was greeted with a hello and a high five from Mr. Sylvester.

Those fleeting moments, Mr. Sylvester said, is what it’s all about to him. He likes to spread happiness and good vibes around whenever he can.

Downtown Dover served as the starting point for Mr. Sylvester’s “Hug and High-5 Tour” on Monday, which is sponsored by Duke Cannon Supply Co.

His goal: 25,000 hugs and high fives, as his driving tour will take him throughout the contiguous 48 states over the next 79 days before ending at the reopening of Love Park in downtown Philadelphia.

Jenna Gibbons, of Lincoln, gives Dave Sylvester a spirited high five at the Governor’s Cafe on Monday morning. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Ms. Young appreciated her high five so much that she went back and got a hug from Mr. Sylvester.

“I was telling (Mr. Sylvester) I didn’t grow up around (Dover), so I don’t fit in with people around here,” Ms. Young said. “I have nothing in common with anybody around here.

“Most of the time you walk down the street and you say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ and you don’t even get that in return. I’m like, ‘What?’”

She added, “I grew up and I taught my grandson if somebody says, ‘Hi, how are you?’ you say, ‘Fine, thank you, how are you?’ It’s the proper thing to do. If they acknowledge you, you acknowledge them. So it was refreshing.”

Dover’s Marsha Young reaches up to give Dave Sylvester a high five on Monday morning. She came back a couple of minutes later to receive a hug. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Spending those kinds of positive moments with people has been first and foremost for Mr. Sylvester ever since he had a lifelong friend perish in the 9/11 attacks.

From that moment on, he made it his own personal mission to replace deep sorrow with proactive positivity, manifested in the simplest forms of human affection: A hug or a high five.

“Right after Sept. 11th, I think we all wanted a hug,” said Mr. Sylvester, known as Big Dave to his friends. “We all wanted a reason to feel good again. We’re all looking at planes differently in the air, and this that and the other, and I didn’t like that feeling.”

So he jumped on his bicycle and took off – across the United States and eventually around the world, crossing North America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Jenna Gibbons, of Lincoln, gives Dave Sylvester a spirited high five at the Governor’s Cafe on Monday morning. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“As I was going around riding my bicycle across the United States I was getting a lot of hugs, I was getting a lot of high fives and getting a lot of support,” Mr. Sylvester said. “From that, it just blossomed.”

He said that since Sept. 12, 2001, he has given out 184,064 hugs and high fives. Those numbers don’t count toward his current tour’s goal.

Mr. Sylvester is quick to answer questions regarding his journeys around the world, share photographs and just try to get even the slightest smile that he can from those people that he comes into contact with.

“It’s been great thus far,” he said, of the first day of his current tour. “I got (to Governor’s Café) and have just been meeting people and talking to people. It’s been wonderful just meeting people and going over my story with people.”

Kim Gibbons, from Magnolia, enjoyed the chance to meet Mr. Sylvester as she enjoyed her breakfast on the front deck of the Governor’s Café.

“I just think it’s a really great way to promote some positivity,” Ms. Gibbons said. “There’s so much negative stuff in the news especially right now, so I think it’s really nice, especially right here in our hometown, to see somebody spreading love throughout the country.

“It’s really cool to learn a little bit about what he’s doing and to see all the pictures from the different places he’s been.”

Tim Calio, of Wilmington, agreed.

“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “It’s good to see people are still doing unique, cool things like traveling the world and spreading a good message.”

Mr. Sylvester, from Philadelphia, keeps count of his hugs and high fives he has experienced with an old-fashioned hand-held counter that was given to him by a friend.

Never, after 9/11, did he think his journey would touch so many.

“I was naive then, naive enough to think that 9/11 would be a watershed moment and there wouldn’t be any more mass killing like that anymore, but every day it seems there is another event to show just how wrong I was,” Mr. Sylvester said.

“My path been as fulfilling a life experience as I could have ever dreamt and prompts me to go further.”

His ‘further’ journey began quietly on a Monday morning in Dover. After returning home to Philly Monday night, things will certainly get a lot busier as his tour heads to Baltimore today.

“I love being able to do what I do,” said Mr. Sylvester. “There’s nothing like trying to spread a little bit of love in the world.”

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