From Help to Hope

From Help to Hope


Humans of New York

What was once deemed un-opportunistic and a place of crippled dreams, has quickly transformed into a beaming light of hope and possibilities.

Mott Hall Bridges Academy (MHBA) is located in the dodgy areas of Brownsville, New York. It is also well known for having the highest crime rate in the entire city.

The potential threat that this town poses to the children of Brownsville has apparently kept much of them stuck in their own neighbourhood, not having the chance to leave the city.

Even in the summer, the season in which most students would tend to look forward to for a whole two to three months of fun under the sun, isn’t spent the same way in Brownsville.

“My scholars can’t even go outside”, said the principal of MHBA Nadia Lopez to Humans of New York, “It’s too dangerous. Just last Saturday, one of my scholars had two guns pulled on him while he was walking to the community center. In broad daylight. It’s just too dangerous to be outside.”

But despite the cruelty and hopelessness that one would quickly derive from the town of Brownsville, Ms. Lopez has stayed resilient and firm in her intentions and purpose of teaching over the years, and it’s looking as if it is finally paying off.

Vidal Chastanet, an eighth-grader (13 years old) from Mott Hall Bridges Academy bumped into Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York while he was on his photography excursion around Brownsville. It started first, with Vidal’s ‘dark’ description of Brownsville.

From Help to Hope

But the next posting was one that was truly inspirational.

From Help to Hope

This immediately sparked an internet frenzy. Tons and tons of support in the form of kind words came pouring in for Vidal and his beloved principal Ms. Lopez whom he spoke so highly about.

But it didn’t stop there.

A couple of days later, Brandon Stanton visited the principal for himself, and learned so much more about the challenges that Mott Hall Bridges Academy and the people of Brownsville had to face.

Ms. Nadia Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. (Pic courtesy of Humans of New York)
Ms. Nadia Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. (Pic courtesy of Humans of New York)

“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”, Ms. Lopez told Stanton.

Unlike most schools, MHBA takes the initiative to call their enrollers ‘scholars’, rather than ‘students’, and their primary colour is purple to signify royalty. She told Stanton, “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.”

After hearing this, and possibly after being inspired by the tons of support garnered from Ms. Lopez’s steadfast journey towards educating her scholars, Brandon Stanton decided that he wanted to do something about it.

He, together with Principal Nadia Lopez and her Director of Programs Ms. Achu, decided that they’d want to encounter what they felt was the main problem for the children of MHBA. “Our discussion covered many needs, but we kept returning to one in particular– the limited horizons of disadvantaged youth” Brandon wrote in his post on HONY.

And so, they proposed a plan. “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.”

Finally. The kind words that has been pouring over MHBA from people all over the globe can finally be converted into something that would help the scholars and educators move forward, with hope. And a future.

The fund was an incredible success. In just 24 hours, MHBA had received enough donations to make the initiative a permanent part of their curriculum. ($185 000 in a few hours and $365 000 in a day, according to HONY). With 2 weeks left for the fundraiser, the support and the donations continued to grow.

It was only a matter of time before Brandon and Ms. Lopez proposed another plan to further enrich her scholars’ educational experience at MHBA and to secure a bright place for them in the future.

A summer program for students.

Ms. Lopez had tried to put one together the previous summer, but had failed due to the lack of funds required to bring the program into full flow. But thanks to the unending flow of support, a full-fledged summer program can finally come to life. “Learning stops during the summer for my scholars. We have what is called a ‘summer slide.” Ms. Lopez said after again appearing in another of HONY’s post. Prior to that, her teachers broke up into small groups and took a walk through the neighbourhood in an attempt to understand how their students live. “We went inside the housing projects. The parks and playgrounds were empty because it’s too dangerous. Even the library isn’t a safe zone.” Said Ms. Lopez, and later added on that the students “need a safe place where they can do activities and continue to grow their minds.”

Throughout the fundraiser, Brandon has been keeping contact with Vidal and his family, and also has taken the initiative to interview Vidal’s mom and some of the educators at MHBA. All of which embodies the truthful and genuine stories of MHBA. Read what they had to say here:

News about this even hit the papers, although maybe the newspapers should do a little bit of rearranging.

From Help to Hope

As of now, the fundraising campaign has raised enough money for ten years of Harvard Trip and ten years of summer programs.

In addition to this amazing story, the fund has raised over $1 million, and is still rising as we speak.

But here’s the cream of the crop. Brandon has just announced yet another encouraging motive, to reserve everything beyond $700 0000 to aid the start-up of a scholarship fund for the graduates of MHBA, in which a committee of MHBA educators and administrators will choose the recipients each year.

The fund will be, ever so rightly called, The Vidal Scholarship Fund, and the first recipient will be Vidal Chastanet himself.

The saga isn’t over yet. Follow it here:

and donate here:

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Photographer, Student Enthusiastic and passionate about street photography, Tim hopes to one day venture into professional photography. An introvert at heart, he believes in utilizing emotions as a means of expression.