How One Photo by Humans of New York Changed Thousands of Students' Lives

Brandon Stanton and his blog Humans of New York need no introduction. In recent years, we featured many stories about the success of Stanton's unique project, and HONY is now a household name. About two weeks ago, Stanton went out to photograph new random people in the projects of Brownsville, Brooklyn. One of the people he shot was 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet. His photo and quote went viral, and made a real change to his school and the community.

While taking Chastanet's picture, Stanton asked him few questions and included his answers on his Facebook/website post. The surprising and touching answer moved many people, and the post went viral with over a million likes and 150,000 shares on Facebook.

HONY: Who’s influenced you the most in your life?

Chastanet: My principal, Ms. Lopez.

HONY: How has she influenced you?

Chastanet: 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.

Stanton was moved as well by the answer the 13-year-old kid from the projects gave, and decided to go and meet Principal Lopez. After meeting her, he decided to try and help her with her efforts to make school a great place for the kids from the area. The school is located in a neighborhood with the highest crime rate in New York, and many of the students come from low-income families. Most kids never traveled outside of the city, and don't know other realities. Principal Lopez shared her vision of sending the new sixth graders to Harvard University for a field trip each year, to show them what's possible if they do good in school, and to show them that they have the potential to be great. Lopez concluded, “I want every child who enters my school to know that they can go anywhere, and that they will belong.”

Stanton started an Indigogo campaign to raise funds to make that vision a reality, and within few days was able to raise over a million dollars. A million dollars! A picture is worth a thousand words maybe, but Chastanet's picture is worth much more than that. It's not just about the money, it's about the change it made in his school, and in the community (as can be seen in Ellen's video above) — not just now, but for many, many years to come.

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9 Comments

Ryan Mense's picture

Incredible story

Just think, all of this came from one image. Amazing!

Anonymous's picture

It's probably more accurate to say that it came from hundreds of images actually, and the associated text is extremely important for this project. "Humans of New York" also got quite a bit of traction over the past years, "quite a bit" being in this case over 12M followers on Facebook alone.

I'd say the project as a whole did this, not a single image.

David Justice's picture

People like to hate on the HONY project over it's popularity, but look what he just did. He changed the life of not only this one kid, and not just the entire school, but he even influenced other schools in the area. All from the popularity of the project.

I don't follow HONY; I'm not a huge fan. I just love it when there's a project or person you just can't hate. This is definitely one of them.

Christian Berens's picture

That's amazing! A photographer just trying to make sense of his situation and now he's changed thousands of lives! Thanks for sharing

in love with this

Spy Black's picture

This fellow is very lovely in his "accidental" mission. Ellen is also a beautiful person for contributing to this, as well as countless other causes.

Keith Walters's picture

Love HONY. The man deserves a humanitarian award.

Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing Noam. : )