“Humans Of New York” Helps Raise Over $1 Million For Brooklyn School

A little over a week ago, Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the blog “Humans Of New York,” posted a photo of a young man named Vidal who cited his school principal, Nadia Lopez, as the most influential person in his life: “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” Vidal lives in a housing project and attends middle school at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn with one of the highest crime rates in New York City. 

Stanton told KTUU News,  “I ask people all the time about the most influential person in their life, and he was the first person who ever told me his principal.” Stanton tracked down the principal, Lopez , and she talked to Stanton about the work  she does at Vidal’s school:

“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

Stanton wanted to do something to help the school’s mission, so Lopez and the school’s vice-principal, Ms. Achu, put together a plan for the HONY community to contribute to the school. The three set out to create a fund so that each incoming class of sixth graders would be able to take a field trip to Harvard University in order to venture out of the neighborhood and see just how far their potential can reach. The campaign raised $100,000 in just 45 minutes (!), and as the funds grew, so did the group’s vision. Stanton and the educators decided that funds that exceeded their initial goal would go toward summer programs at the school. Lopez told Stanton her students experience a “summer slide” over their vacation when they stop learning. She described an incident to Stanton in which one of her scholars had two guns pulled on him in the middle of the day as he walked to the local community center. Summer programming can prevent such situations by providing a safe place for kids to learn indoors. As the campaign continued to skyrocket in its earnings, Stanton and the team realized they’d exceed even their summer programming goals, so they made plans to use some of the money to put together a scholarship fund for graduates of the school. Recipients of The Vidal Fund, named after the boy who started it all, will be chosen by a committee of administrators each year. The very first recipient will be Vidal himself. Lopez announced the campaign’s progress in a stirring speech to her scholars  and fellow educators:

“…Before all of this happened, I was about to give up. I was broken. I felt like typing my resignation. I told my mother: ‘Mom, I don’t think I can do it anymore. Because I don’t think my scholars care. And I don’t think they believe in themselves enough to care. I’m afraid they don’t think they’re good enough.’ And she told me to pray on it. But I told her, ‘I might be too angry to pray.’ And I know this is hard to believe, because you guys have never seen me break. But I was broken. It’s just like when you see your mom break down. You only see your mom cry when she’s been fighting so hard for you and she doesn’t think you care. That’s how I felt. But then a couple nights later I was with my daughter at a Broadway show, and we were waiting for the show to start, and I started to get all these text messages from my teachers and former students. And then I saw Vidal’s face pop up on my screen. And my first thought was that something bad had happened. Because that’s normally the case around here when someone’s photo shows up unexpectedly. And the moment I realized that Vidal had said something nice about me, the usher came over and made me turn off my phone. When intermission came, my daughter said: ‘Mom, we’ve got to find out what’s happening.’ So we went and sat in the car. And I read what Vidal said, and I began to read the comments. And tears started coming down my face. Because even though I always tell you that you matter, up until that moment, I didn’t feel like I mattered.

Before all of this happened for our school, I felt broken. And I think the world felt a little broken too, because a lot of bad things have been happening lately, especially between black people and white people. But all of you gave people a reason to feel a little less broken. And the craziest thing about all of this is that it’s happening in Brownsville. Before this, people watched the news and read the newspapers, and some people even thought that all we do here is fight and act crazy. But now there are so many people out there that care about you and want to know more about you. People are even emailing me and asking if they can meet you and mentor you. Not just people from Brownsville, not just people from Brooklyn, not just people in New York, but people all over the world. So I need all of you to work a little harder. Whenever you don’t feel like doing your homework, I need you to remember that you’re helping tell the story of Brownsville to people all over the world.”

Is this amazing or what? You can donate to the campaign here through February 5th!



[Images via Humans of New York]