Thursday, January 29, 2015

Who Says We Can't Make A Difference? #HONY on Facebook Proves We Can

Vidal, who started the ball rolling.

"Who's influenced you the most in your life?"
"My principal, Ms. Lopez."
"How has she influenced you?"
"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."

People were so touched by this young man's words that the author of Humans of New York, a book, a blog and the Facebook page, wanted to meet Ms. Lopez. HONY founder, Brandon, started taking photos of everyday New Yorkers and telling a bit about them back in 2010 since then he has almost 12,000,000 followers on Facebook and continues to help his community by raising awareness and funds.

HONY posted the portrait of a young man, Vidal, who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez. Brandon of HONY fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy.
“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. 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.”
Brandon spent an afternoon in a brainstorming session with Ms. Lopez and her Director of Programs Ms. Achu, trying to think of creative ways that the HONY community could help further the vision of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Our discussion covered many needs, but we kept returning to one in particular-- the limited horizons of disadvantaged youth. Ms. Lopez’s school is situated in a neighborhood with the highest crime rate in New York, and many of her scholars have very limited mobility. Some of them are very much ‘stuck’ in their neighborhood. And many have never left the city. “It can be very difficult for them to dream beyond what they know,” Ms. Lopez explained.

So the three of them struck on an idea. (OK, it was Ms. Achu’s idea, but we all agreed.) We want to create a fund that will provide each incoming 6th grade class at Mott Hall Bridges Academy a chance to get out of their neighborhood and visit a new place. And that place is Harvard University. “I want every child who enters my school to know that they can go anywhere, and that they will belong,” said Ms. Lopez.

So we’re going to try to make it happen! Let’s help this visionary educator enrich the lives of her students.

One of the coolest things about this fundraiser is that it originated with a young man on the street, who chose to tell a stranger about the love and appreciation he had for his school principal. His name is Vidal, and I had a chance to reconnect with him during my visit to Mott Hall Bridges Academy. He could not possibly be a more polite or charismatic young man.
“I want to own my own restaurant,” he told me. “When I was little, I used to watch my mom cook. Then I started cooking for myself when I was nine. I’d get the ingredients myself at the corner store and make something for my brothers. I just thought it was a good thing for an older brother to do. I can make curry chicken, jerk chicken, curry goat, fried rice, macaroni and cheese, and all kinds of stuff.”
“What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment?”
“Getting publicity for my school.”
The fundraiser inspired by Vidal has been an overwhelming blessing for his school, and has raised over $570,000 to help provide much needed programs for his classmates. If you’d like to help expand upon its success, you can do so by contributing here:

HONY are currently profiling Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in the under-served neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn. As we learn about the school, its scholars, and its educators, HONY are also raising funds to provide a financial boost to the school’s mission. All funds raised over $700,000 are being used to establish a scholarship fund available to graduates of MHBA. The scholarship fund is named The Vidal Fund, after the young man who inspired the entire story. Nearly 30,000 people have donated so far. If you’d like to participate, you can do so here:

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