On Jan. 19, a photographer named Brandon Stanton stopped a boy named Vidal Chastanet on a street in New York City. In a conversation that Brandon later recorded on Facebook, the photographer asked Vidal whom had influenced him most, and Vidal cited his principal, Ms. Lopez.
“How has she influenced you?” Stanton probed. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” Chastanet explained, according to the Facebook page. “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.”
Stanton is the man behind Humans of New York, a popular blog that currently boasts over 12 million fans on Facebook. Since 2010, Stanton has made it his mission to share the stories of countless New Yorkers by snapping their photographs and turning their quotes into captions.
As far as his Internet fans know, Stanton rarely follows up with the individuals he photographs. But something about Chastanet’s praise of Lopez must have stayed with him, for Stanton decided to pay her a visit. At Mott Hall Bridges Academy, which is located in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Stanton discovered a passionate principal with an extraordinary commitment to her at-risk students.
Leveraging the power of the Internet, Stanton struck out to help Lopez further her mission. On Jan. 22, he launched an Indiegogo campaign with the hope of raising $100,000 to send MHBA sixth graders on a yearly trip to Harvard. Lopez and her team believed that a trek to Cambridge could be just the kick the kids needed to pursue higher education. Within 45 minutes of the fundraiser’s debut, HONY readers blew past Stanton’s initial monetary goal. By the time the fundraiser closed, 51,465 people had poured $1,417,834 into the campaign—enough money to fund years of visits to Harvard, a summer enrichment program for MHBA students, and a scholarship fund for a graduating student in Chastanet’s name.
Stanton, Lopez, and Chastanet have had the opportunity to do an impressive amount of traveling since the smashing success of HONY’s fundraiser. On Feb. 3, the gang flew out to Los Angeles to appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” On Feb. 5, they met with President Obama in the White House. And on April 2, they joined MHBA’s sixth-grade class on that very well-funded trip to Harvard.
During the visit, Harvard President Drew G. Faust, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark talked to the 200 students about dreaming big and going to college. Stanton, as always, had his camera on hand, sharing pictures of the trip on Facebook with the thousands of supporters who made it possible.