Narrative of Identity – Part II

In an earlier post, Journalism as Narrative, [Jan 11, 2015], I examined the fact that everyone is telling stories, even journalists. The way news items are chosen and framed presents a picture of the world.

I highlighted one of my favourite bloggers, Brandon Stanton, and his page, Humans of New York. The blog subverts the trend of selling drama,  to tell the stories of every day people.  He, almost daily posts images of people he encounters in the streets of New York, and a few lines of dialogue that captures something unique about them.

In this exerpt he explains to University students in Dublin, how he engages people in the street:

 

With over 11 million Facebook followers, Stanton resonates with his audience by highlighting the beauty, complexity, humour and vulnerability of human beings.  Nothing quite captures the power of his story telling as what has happened over the last 7 days. On January 20th Stanton took this picture of 13 year old Vidal Chastanet,  in his neighbourhood, Brownsville, New York.

"Who's influenced you the most in your life?"<br /><br /><br />
"My principal, Ms. Lopez."<br /><br /><br />
"How has she influenced you?"<br /><br /><br />
"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."
“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.”
On January 23rd, Stanton found and interviewed Mrs Lopez, the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy.
A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez.  Yesterday I was fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy.</p><br /><br />
<p>“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.  We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’   Our color is purple.  Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff.  Because purple is the color of royalty.  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.  When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up.  But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

“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. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. 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. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

Inspired by the community and the response to Vidal’s story, which had received over a million likes, Stanton spent time brainstorming with the teaching staff how he and the HONY [Humans of New York] community could help. Stanton and Ms Lopez discussed  a school trip to see Harvard University.

Our discussion covered many needs, but we kept returning to one in particular– the limited horizons of disadvantaged youth. Ms. Lopez’s school is situated in a neighborhood with the highest crime rate in New York, and many of her scholars have very limited mobility. Some of them are very much ‘stuck’ in their neighborhood. And many have never left the city. “It can be very difficult for them to dream beyond what they know,” Ms. Lopez explained.

Stanton promptly launched an crowdfunding campaign on Indigogo with the goal of $100, 000 to send Vidal’s class to Harvard. Subsequent posts told the stories of other citizens of the neighbourhood, other teachers of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, the teaching staff, the school community. Stanton spent almost the whole week in Vidal’s world recording the remarkable human beings and the lives they live. With each post he promoted the fundraising campaign which quiclly grew beyond a simple trip to Harvard.

Earlier today this article was released:

 Just amazing. And in less than five days. Thanks to the 34,893 of you who have donated so far. (That’s getting close to an Indiegogo record, by the way!) Thanks also to those of you who have been following along, and lending comments of support. I’m so proud of how everyone has rallied around this story, in ways that go so far beyond just raising money.
Vidal 2
With over $1 million dollars raised in just under a week,  the campaign was nothing less than record breaking. Funds were raised for 10 years of trips to see Harvard University, summer programs for the local school children, and a scholarship fund for students to attend university.  This not only illustrates the power of digital media and the creation of a “community” of people as far flung as South Africa, New Zealand, India, Iran and Brownsville, New York, but also the power of simply telling people’s stories.
By connecting with people’s stories, the world seems a little smaller, strangers seem a little stranger and our hearts connect with the plight of others making their problems our problems.
"When you posted last week about all the ways Vidal helps around the house, most of the comments were very nice.  But a few people really ripped into me.  They said that I was lazy and I was a bad mother.  I wanted to reply, but Vidal stopped me.  He said: 'Don't worry about them, Mom.  Let them be negative.  They don't know how it is.'"

 

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3 thoughts on “Narrative of Identity – Part II

  1. What a great story. I like Humans of New York.” There are so many many people in the world with limited horizons. And who lack either the means or the wish to see further and it is worry for us all and sad for them. Schools can help a lot if they are tuned in to education rather than just teaching. Parents and other relatives can help if their minds are so minded. I think violent crime would lessen if more people had wider horizons.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Everyone Around You Has a Story | Bear Skin

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