How one photo of a teenage boy raised $1m and gave school students hope for the future
The Humans of New York blog is the brainchild of Brandon Stanton, who gives people around the world a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people he meets on the streets.
Now Brandon has helped to raise $1 million for a school in Brooklyn. He spotted 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet, took his picture and asked him who was the most influential person in his life.
He posted this photo with these words from Brandon: “When you live here, you don’t have too many fears. You’ve seen pretty much everything that life can throw at you. When I was nine, I saw a guy get pushed off the roof of that building right there.”
Pictures: Facebook/Humans of New York
Later on the same day, Brandon posted a second Facebook item. In it, Vidal explained why his teacher is the greatest influence on his life.
Three days later, Brandon went to visit Vidal’s school principal, Nadia Lopez, at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the underserved neighbourhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn. She said: “This is a neighbourhood 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’.”
Brandon discussed with Ms Lopez how the massive Humans of New York family could help the school. They and her programmes director Monique Achu decided to create a fund that would give each incoming sixth grade class “a chance to get out of their neighborhood and visit a new place. And that place is Harvard University.” Ms Lopez told Humans of New York: “I want every child who enters my school to know that they can go anywhere, and that they will belong.” So they set up an online fund with a goal of $100,000 – and within days it had soared past $1 million!
With that amount of money raised, the inspiring Harvard trips will become a permanent part of the school curriculum. What to do with the rest? The answer is a summer programme for students whose neighbourhoods aren’t safe for them to go out. Ms Lopez explained: “We (she and her teachers) wanted to understand how our students live. We went inside the housing projects. The parks and playgrounds were empty because it’s too dangerous. Even the library isn’t a safe zone. Just last Saturday, one of my scholars had two guns pulled on him while he was walking to the community center. In broad daylight.”
— Brandon Stanton (@humansofny) January 23, 2015
On January 26, Mott Hall Bridges Academy held an assembly and Ms Lopez explained about the trips to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She also told them: “The scholars of MHBA are inspiring the entire world. People have written me letters from New Zealand, England and South Africa, telling me that they care about you.”
On the same day, Brandon announced that so much money had been raised that every sixth grader could visit Harvard University for the next 10 years and the summer programme was also financed for at least a decade. So he revealed a scholarship fund will also be set up. He wrote: “It will be called The Vidal Scholarship Fund. And the first recipient will be Vidal himself.”
Interviewed by the TV chat show host Ellen DeGeneres’ website, Vidal – pictured with his mother – said of his school principal: “Nadia’s unbelievable. She’s like a movie character, she just cares so much and she’s tough. It’s what you need in this area. She’s tough and she’s unbelievably committed and ambitious, but ambitious on part of the kids.”