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"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." – Vidal Chastanet
When Chastanet, a 13-year-old from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville, shared his story in late January with a street photographer who has a popular blog on Facebook, little did he know it would generate a million-dollar fundraising campaign to help his middle school offer inspiring programs to its pupils.
After Brandon Stanton featured Chastanet on his photoblog, "Humans Of New York,” the photographer wanted to know more and asked to meet Nadia Lopez, Chastanet’s principal at Mott Hill Bridges Academy.
From their meeting, Stanton began profiling the school, its students and staff as he raised funds online to provide a financial boost to the academy’s mission. That included helping Lopez fulfill a dream of bringing her students to Harvard. The online campaign quickly passed the initial $100,000 goal as funds poured in from more than 30,000 donors, ultimately raising more than $1 million. Stanton’s effort also hit one million likes on Facebook.
“I'm so proud of how everyone has rallied around this story, in ways that go so far beyond just raising money,” Stanton wrote in a Facebook post to his 12 million followers.
The show of support also helped Lopez, who was on the verge of quitting.
“Up until this moment, I didn’t know I mattered. I didn’t know that anybody cared what I was doing,” she said.
At a recently school assembly, Lopez reminded her students of how important they are: "I never want you to feel like there’s this cap on how far you can go."
Chastanet, Lopez and Stanton are just coming off a whirlwind week culminating with an interview on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Tuesday. DeGeneres told the trio that Target would be giving the academy and other schools in the community $100,000 worth of state-of-the-art technology. Those funds will be in addition to the $1 million from Stanton’s campaign, which will go towards future Harvard trips, a summer program and a scholarship fund.
“I think in the past couple of days there’s been a dynamic shift in how we all view the world and there’s power in education has created this resounding need for all of us to act like humans,” Lopez told msnbc. “And so what Brandon was able to do is just show that it’s not only humans of New York, but there’s humans of the world.”