February 19, 2015 \ Emma Freter
The Power of a Compelling Story (and a Picture)

We’ve all heard it before: stories move people. We also know that a picture is “worth a thousand words.” In the case of a young boy from New York City named Vidal, his compelling story, plus a picture, was worth a million dollars.

For a couple years, I’ve been following a blog by Brandon Stanton. After losing his job as a bond trader, Brandon decided to pursue his passion for photography. He wasn’t a trained photographer – taking photos was just a hobby. His goal was to take 10,000 photos in one year of the people he came across while walking around New York City. He then began asking the people he photographed some questions about their lives and pairing their photos with their quotes into a blog, Humans of New York (HONY). He found that the photo blog quickly turned into a storytelling blog, and from there his blog exploded on Facebook, gaining over 12 million followers.

Earlier this month, Brandon posted a photo of Vidal, who is from Brownsville, which is known to be very tough area in Brooklyn. The photographer asked Vidal who is the most influential person in his life. The boy said his principal, Ms. Lopez at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. He explained how Ms. Lopez continuously reminds each and every one of her students that they matter. She encourages her students to look beyond their neighborhood; she reminds them that even though society is “built down around them,” they are “scholars” and they can achieve anything. Practically overnight, this post received an overwhelming response and global attention. Ms. Lopez began an online donation campaign to raise money to help fund an annual trip for these students to visit Harvard. The goal was $100,000. In just a few days, over $1.1 million were donated towards this campaign from people all around the world.

The journey did not end here. Brandon, Vidal and Ms. Lopez have received global attention and were even invited to the White House to meet President Obama. They were featured on the Ellen show too, which is arguably cooler. This story in particular, is truly amazing. This one photo of Vidal touched the hearts of millions. His school received global attention and support, reinforcing Ms. Lopez’s belief that they matter.

Having read many of his stories over time, I often find them beautiful, sincere, funny, unique, and inspiring. They provide a small glimpse into the life of someone else and help me see the world a little differently. Every photo has captured a special moment. Whether profound or lighthearted, they each hold great value.

Brandon had no idea how influential his storytelling blog would become or the positive impact it would have on the people he’s met, HONY demonstrates that even the most brief, simple story will inspire an audience if it’s authentic.

Photos: Brandon Stanton