"Humans of New York" portrait inspires online fundraising campaign for school
It was intended to fund three classes' trip to Harvard
But extra money will now go to summer studies, a scholarship fund
One principal’s inspiration has resulted in more than $1 million in donations for what started as an initiative to raise funding for a class trip to Harvard.
“Humans of New York” creator Brandon Stanton launched the campaign to benefit Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, known as a “safe zone in a crime-plagued neighborhood.” The goal of the trip is to broaden students’ horizons and expand their idea of their potential, Stanton wrote on the campaign page.
It took about 45 minutes for an online campaign to raise an initial $100,000.
The campaign evolved from a picture this week on “Humans of New York,” the massively popular photo series of everyday people Stanton meets on the street. The fundraising campaign’s rapid success speaks in part to the reach of “Humans of New York,” which has a social media following of nearly 12 million on Facebook alone. It’s also a testament to the ability of social media to breathe new life into a feel-good story.
The inspirational post featured a picture of a Mott Hall student named Vidal in a housing project in Brownsville. He describes the most influential person in his life, principal Nadia 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.”
In a posting on the “Humans of New York” Facebook page, Lopez talked about the discouragement she felt before the campaign.
“Before all of this happened for our school, I felt broken,” she said. “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. “
The picture of Vidal has been widely shared and drew more than 1 million likes on the “Humans of New York” Facebook page, compelling Stanton to dig deeper.
“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 wrote in an email. “Then when I met Ms. Lopez, I could not have been more impressed. She is a force of nature. When she let me sit in on a staff meeting, I got a front-row seat to the challenges that her school faces, and I wanted to be involved in the solution.”
They discussed how the “Humans of New York” community could help further the school’s vision, Stanton said in a Facebook post. They decided to create a fund to provide each incoming sixth-grade class a chance to get out of their neighborhood and visit Harvard University.
“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,” Lopez told Stanton, who featured her picture on “Humans of New York.”
“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.”
The campaign’s scope has expanded as its pot has grown. Initially, it was intended to cover lodging and transportation costs for three Mott Hall classes to make the trip to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus. In an update Friday, Stanton said that funds raised beyond the initial goal would go toward summer programming for the school.
“Learning stops during the summer for my scholars. We have what is called a ‘summer slide,’ ” Lopez says on the fund-raising campaign page.
“They need a safe place where they can do activities and continue to grow their minds.”
On Monday, Stanton posted that because of the campaign’s success, “We are starting a scholarship fund available to the graduates of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. A committee of MHBA educators and administrators will choose the recipients each year.”
The scholarship fund will be named for Vidal, the student who started it all, who will be the fund’s first recipient, Stanton announced.