Mott Hall Bridges Academy and Humans of New York

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

[all photos via HONY]

When you make a donation to an organization, it’s not often that you get to see exactly where that money goes. So when I donated to a fund set up by the creator of Humans of New York to help enrich the futures of the children at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, I was happy to know that my dollars were not paying someone’s salary or going toward advertising for a giant corporation. Instead I was directly supporting something that I think this country needs desperately.

For those that are not familiar, Humans of New York is a project that started back in 2010 when photographer Brandon Stanton began asking to take photos of people he met on the streets of New York City. He would also conduct a short interview of sorts asking the same few questions to each person he met, and surprisingly, people poured out their stories to him. He then began to post these photos on Facebook along with captions that included parts of their conversations and over the course of the last few years, his page has gained nearly 12 million followers.  

A few weeks ago, Brandon met a young boy named Vidal. He posted two photos of him - the first with a caption that described the heart-wrenching reality of the rough neighborhood he lived in and the second was this:

"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."

The response to this photo was overwhelming. It has since gained more than a million likes and many comments that praised Ms. Lopez's efforts. 

A few days later, Brandon met up with Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, NY. She described the adversity that her "scholars" (the term she uses for her students) face and the high expectations that she sets for them, demanding excellence so as to hopefully guide them to success outside of the violence and crime that fills their neighborhood. 

One of the posts that followed was from the next day where Ms. Lopez was leading a staff meeting full of exhausted and frustrated teachers.

"It can be especially hard when you come back from holiday break," Ms. Lopez explained. "Because it can feel like so much of the progress you made last semester was undone during the break. It's hard, it's hard, it's hard. And it's OK for you to feel like you want to give up. You can quit anytime you want, and I will pick up the phone and recommend you for a new job, because every one of you could succeed anywhere. But these kids need you. Our girls don't feel honored and respected. Our boys are being recruited into gangs. Your classrooms may be the one place they feel safe and respected. If we give up, there is nobody else. There is a system out there that is waiting for our scholars to show up in shackles and jumpsuits if we choose to give up on them."

Brandon has spent every day since posting photos and interviews from teachers and students involved with MHBA. He was so inspired by what Ms. Lopez is doing for her students that he set up a fund to raise $100,000 to take every incoming 6th grade class on a trip to Harvard University for the next three years. Why a trip to Harvard? 

“I want every child who enters my school to know that they can go anywhere, and that they will belong,” said Ms. Lopez.

One of the biggest problems that inner city youth experience today is having limited opportunities and many of them never even leave their own city. Brandon wanted to help Ms. Lopez and MHBA by setting up this fund to enrich the lives of the students there and give them insight into a world outside of their crime-ridden streets.

The response to this was again overwhelming. So far more than $900,000 has been raised for this program and they have started coming up with additional ideas for summer programs (summer in Brooklyn is one of the most dangerous and deadly times for these kids) and a scholarship program for MHBA graduates.

You want to stop the drug trafficking? Donate to this cause.
You want to stop the robberies, rape, gang violence, and homicides? Donate to this cause.
You want to make our cities safer and ensure the futures of the kids who can't escape? Donate to this cause.

Education is and always has been the answer.

Getting these kids off the streets and outside of the district of Brownsville to introduce them to a place like Harvard will show them and incoming scholars like them that there is a future beyond the hood - giving them something to work toward and inspiring the drive to get there. 

I strongly encourage you to check out the HONY Facebook page found here and begin reading their stories. For points of reference, the first time we met Vidal was on January 19th. Then we were introduced to his principal, Ms. Lopez, starting on January 22nd and the story has only expanded from there. It’s worth the read if you have the time. And if you have the capacity to donate, I ask that you consider it. You can find the website here.

Invest in their futures. Invest in this academy. Help the community of Brownsville and hopefully we’ll inspire more of this.

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men" -Frederick Douglas