The Brooklyn neighborhood in Brownsville is recognized as one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden areas in New York City. Poverty and unemployment rates exceed 20%, and 30% of the third graders in the district fail to read at the appropriate standards (New York Daily News). Further, numerous students attending the Mott Hall Bridges Academy (a public high school in Brooklyn) are coping with drug addiction, and it is mandatory for students to pass through metal detectors every morning to enter the school building, adding weight to the level of disorder at the school.
But on February 5, 2015, the school found luck. The photo-blog “Humans of New York,” which has won acclaim for its acknowledgment of the oftentimes dismal reality of New York, raised $1 million for the students in Mott Hall Bridges Academy to take a trip to Harvard University.
According to NBC news, the “Humans of New York” street photographer Brandon Stanton had interviewed a 13-year-old student, Vidal Chastanet. Stanton asked, “Who’s influenced you the most in your life?” Vidal’s answer surprised him: “My principal, Ms. Lopez…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.”
Later, when Stanton met with Nydia Lopez, the principal, she expressed her dream of taking her students to a Harvard trip, wishing to expand the minds of desperate students. She wanted to show them, that “there are no limits.”
Principal Nydia Lopez’s dream and the thirteen-year-old Vidal’s words inspired Stanton, who began posting these stories and raising funds online through Indiegogo.
According to The Huffington Post, Stanton’s stories spread among his 12 million followers, and in only four days, they raised over $700,000. Soon enough, Stanton finally surpassed the initial goal of $1 million through the help of 40,000 donors across the world. At the end, a total of $1,179,873 was raised, which was enough money to send the students to Harvard University for ten years, along with summer programs and scholarships funds.
“I’m so proud of how everyone has rallied around this story, in ways that go so far beyond just raising money,” Stanton wrote in his Facebook post. Adding to that, Lopez’s final words were, according to NBC news, “I think in the past couple of days there’s been a dynamic shift in how we all view the world and there’s power in education has created this resounding need for all of us to act like humans. And so what Brandon was able to do is just show that it’s not only humans of New York, but there’s humans of the world.”
– Sammie Kim (’18)