'Humans of New York' Makes Brooklyn School's Harvard Dream a Reality

After posting picture of 13-year-old Brooklyn boy, street photographer Brandon Stanton initiates campaign that raises $1.2 million for class trip.

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Vidal's class portrayed on the school's Indiegogo page.Credit: Screenshot

A chance encounter between the Humans of New York blogger and a young student has resulted in an Indiegogo campaign that has raised over $1.2 million to support the child's public middle school.

Street photographer Brandon Stanton met Vidal Chastanet, a 13-year-old student in Brooklyn's Mott Hall Bridges Academy in mid-January, Yahoo News reported Thursday.

Stanton asked the boy who inspired him most in life, and Vidal replied his principal, Nadia Lopez.

"When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us,” Vidal told the photographer. “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."

The photographer learned that Lopez had the goal of taking her incoming sixth graders on a tour of Harvard University, believing that taking them to one of the world's top academic institutions would expand their horizons and show that they, too, could attend such a place one day, according to Yahoo.

Stanton posted a photograph of the youth along with his story, and the attention it drew in turn inspired him to fundraise through Indiegogo to make the trip a reality.
“Before all of this happened for our school, I felt broken,” Lopez told her students last week when she announced that the campaign had raised $700,000. “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 campaign, known as the Vidal Scholarship Fund, has raised over $1.2 million as of Friday. The money will go toward the Harvard trips, a summer program, and a scholarship fund, according to Yahoo.

The school needs a summer program because the neighborhood is so dangerous, Lopez said.

"Even the library isn’t a safe zone," she said. "Just last Saturday, one of my scholars had two guns pulled on him while he was walking to the community center. In broad daylight."

On January 19th, I met a young man on the street named Vidal, and I asked him to tell me about the person who had influenced him the most in his life. He told me about his principal, Ms. Lopez, and he explained how she had taught him that he mattered. Over the next two weeks, I learned the story of Ms. Lopez and her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy. By hearing the stories of MHBA students and educators, my eyes were opened to the unique challenges facing a school in an under-served community. Ms. Lopez taught me that before a student is ready for academic training, they must be made to understand that they deserve success. And that can be the hardest battle in education. Ms. Lopez always said that there was no place her students did not belong. Recently we received an invitation that proved just that.

A photo posted by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on Feb 5, 2015 at 1:42pm PST

The campaign also caught the eye of U.S. President Barack Obama, who invited the boy and his principal to the White House.

“Ms. Lopez always said that there was no place her students did not belong. Recently we received an invitation that proved just that,” Stanton wrote in the caption of an image of Vidal in the Oval Office with Obama and Lopez.