In the era of the internet, pictures tend to speak more than their usual thousand words. Social media has connected the world in ways that was once unthinkable. Today, in the dawn of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, the world can no longer turn a blind-eye to everything that happens around them. Ignorance has turned into an increasingly difficult choice when everything happening around the world is a click of a button away.
Mark Twain said “travel is to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” and even though many of us do not travel further than the distance of work and back, despite its many faults, the internet has been a portal for people to not only see different places, but also to peer into the minds of those who live very different lives from ours.
Brandon Stanton is photographer who roams the streets of New York City, talking to people he runs into and taking their pictures. His photoblog, The Humans of New York (HONY), is famous worldwide for Brandon’s gift of getting his subjects to open up to him and the raw honesty of his work is what has earned the humble Facebook blog its widespread fan following.
Over the years, HONY has used its strong fan base to conduct several successful fundraisers and social drives, but its most recent heart-breaking story that led to staggering donations stands testimonial to the power of the internet and the empathy that still somehow survives in the increasingly brutal world we live in.
A chance encounter with 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet spiraled to a fundraiser that collected $1 million for the students of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, which is considered one of New York City’s most dangerous locations. Vidal, who grew up in this is rough neighborhood, shared his experiences of growing up in a crime-infested neighborhood like Brownsville.
For the teenager who casually mentions how he saw a man being pushed off a building nearby at the age of nine, the turning point of the conversation was when Brandon asked him who has influenced him the most in his life, whereby he answered it was Ms. Lopez, his high school principal.
“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.”
Nadia Lopez, with the goal of providing a better future of these kids has been working diligently to broaden the horizons of these children, most of who have never left New York. There isn’t much expectation from these children from their families or their societies. Most live in pitiful unsanitary conditions, hostile environments and even public parks and libraries are not safe for them.
Lopez and the teachers of Mott Hall Bridges Academy have been attempting to raise funds to take its students to a trip to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts so that the students can get a glimpse of what they can reach for and that their circumstances do not have to define them. When Brandon and HONY joined forces with Ms. Lopez, the school raised nearly $1 million, gaining the attention of the President himself, who invited Vidal to the White House recently.
This sum is enough to sponsor the trip, fund summer programs to provide a healthy environment for the students all year round and for scholarship programs. The first recipient of which will be the sixth-grader, Vidal Chastanet, the boy who inspired it all.