I am going to be real with you. I sometimes go into a deep existential crisis when I think about the future of humanity. When I think about the world that I must grow old in, the world in which the children I will one day give birth to have to grow up in. What kind of world will that be?
My optimism allows me to hope for the best. When I see the youth of today, I think of myself and remember that most things are just a phase and we need to go through certain life experiences in order to grow and expand our consciousness. However, this new generation has an obsession with technology. Striving to create virtual connections yet failing somewhere along the line to nourish and value true connections, emotions, people.
A lot of what is needed currently in the world are more of us being present in the moment. Absolutely present. Mind, body and soul connected to the action.
However, I know for a fact that not all adolescents are the same. No human being is like any other. We are each unique in our experiences, our thoughts and our beliefs.
I put a lot of faith in the youth. I believe we are underestimating their power. I believe a ten year old has infinite potential within him yet he doesn’t have the space to express it.
That’s why I’m always moved when I read stories about very young children making a difference, whether at home, in school, for their community or their country.
It shows a powerful soul knowing its purpose and overcoming any adversity.
You might have met this young man already but if you haven’t, I want to make sure you do.
Meet 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet from Brownsville, Brooklyn. He had a chance encounter with Brandon Stanton, creator of the popular website Humans of New York.
Brandon took Vidal’s photo, and asked the teen who the most influential person in his life was; Vidal replied it was his Principal, Nadia Lopez, at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. The interaction went viral in this touching photograph.
Curious Brandon just had to meet this amazing principal.
It turns out that Ms. Lopez was in the middle of raising money to send her students on a trip to Harvard, a college she wanted them to have in the forefront of their minds. Soon thereafter, Brandon found himself joining the cause, helping to raise over $700,000 for the trip in just four days.
“Nadia’s unbelievable,” Brandon tells Ellen’s Good News.
“She’s like a movie character, she just cares so much and she’s tough. It’s what you need in this area. She’s tough and she’s unbelievably committed and ambitious, but ambitious on part of the kids. She could have been CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but decided to be principal in one of toughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.”
Because they’ve raised so much money – their original goal was only $100,000 – the entire school will be visiting Harvard, and subsequently, the sixth-grade class will be able to go for the next ten years. Additionally, they will be able to establish a summer program to run for the next 10 years, as well as a scholarship fund named in Vidal’s honor.
“When people tell you they’re from Brownsville they get cringes. There’s a sense of hopelessness. I want these kids to know that there are no limits or boundaries to where they can go… I also want those institutions to see the impact they can have on those children’s lives.” says Nadia. She is making a huge impact on her students. She started the school in 2010 as a way to change the narrative of the neighborhood, and to empower students to believe they are more than their surroundings. Vidal says he began school with a “short temper” and often got in trouble, but Nadia changed his attitude.
“If you’re from Brownsville, they don’t expect you to be much in life,” he says. “They don’t expect you to have a quality education, they don’t expect you to know what you’re doing. They expect you to fail. They don’t want you to become anything that you want to be… I realized that if I want to be anything in life, as Ms. Lopez said, I have to learn how to be better. It doesn’t matter about the past and present, you must focus on the future. Your future is what you set it to be in your mind.”
The most recent post shows Ms. Lopez at an assembly on Monday where Ms. Lopez explained the fundraiser to the entire student body. Most of the students had already heard bits and pieces about what’s been going on, but Ms. Lopez projected the blog onto a screen and walked through the entire story. She began with Vidal’s original post and ended with the final tally raised thus far. ($707,000 at the time. over a million now!)
“I have something to admit to all of you. Before all of this happened, I was about to give up. I was broken. I felt like typing my resignation. I told my mother: ‘Mom, I don’t think I can do it anymore. Because I don’t think my scholars care. And I don’t think they believe in themselves enough to care. I’m afraid they don’t think they’re good enough.’ And she told me to pray on it. But I told her, ‘I might be too angry to pray.’ And I know this is hard to believe, because you guys have never seen me break. But I was broken. It’s just like when you see your mom break down. You only see your mom cry when she’s been fighting so hard for you and she doesn’t think you care. That’s how I felt. But then a couple nights later I was with my daughter at a Broadway show, and we were waiting for the show to start, and I started to get all these text messages from my teachers and former students. And then I saw Vidal’s face pop up on my screen. And my first thought was that something bad had happened. Because that’s normally the case around here when someone’s photo shows up unexpectedly. And the moment I realized that Vidal had said something nice about me, the usher came over and made me turn off my phone. When intermission came, my daughter said: ‘Mom, we’ve got to find out what’s happening.’ So we went and sat in the car. And I read what Vidal said, and I began to read the comments. And tears started coming down my face. Because even though I always tell you that you matter, up until that moment, I didn’t feel like I mattered.”
This is love. Care. Inspiration. Kindness. Solidarity. Hope.
This is Humanity.
That’s why it touches us all.
PS – There are still 7 days left to donate! If you’re interested in reading more about the cause or adding your little grain of salt, click here.
PS 2 – Aren’t you glad you met Vidal? 🙂