A Principled Approach
One of the top trending stories on social media of the last week or so — you’ve probably seen it if you’ve been anywhere near Facebook — has centered on a boy and his principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a small middle school in Brownsville, N.Y. Located in an east Brooklyn neighborhood with one of the highest crime rates in all of New York City, the school focuses on helping students expand their horizons and grow beyond the limitations of their present circumstances.
Posted on Humans of New York, New York photographer Brandon Stanton’s blog, the original photo of Vidal in a hoodie with a short quote, showed just how much influence one person can have on another:
“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.”
Overnight, Vidal’s photo and testimonial went viral, garnering millions of views, likes, and shares, prompting Stanton to meet with Ms. Lopez and her staff to brainstorm ways to make the most of the outpouring of social love. In a little over a week, the resulting Indiegogo fundraising campaign garnered over $700,000 and counting. With these funds, the school will be able to start a program to send its scholars to Harvard each year, fund a summer program to combat the dreaded “summer slide,” and establish a scholarship fund whose first recipient will be Vidal himself.
It’s a social story, but a branding one as well. The leadership at Mott Hall focuses on creating and nurturing a culture of self-worth and empowerment that permeates the school. It’s a way of life, a brand message, of sorts, that kids like Vidal can carry with them out into the world, one that they can be proud of, and one that they can use as a shield. Lopez told Stanton, “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.’” In each classroom, bright purple splashes across the walls, along with quotes like, “You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, BUT YOU CAN CHANGE YOURSELF. That is something you have.” For students battling the many obstacles in their social and home lives, these messages reinforce daily their purpose in their academic lives. Even the logo, featuring teachers and students connected in a stylized bridge, reinforces the message of interconnectivity and unity. A strong brand message, indeed.
For now, though, we would like to focus on the idea that one person can make a difference. And one person, combined with hundreds, thousands, a million? Well, they can, in fact, change the world.