Copyright Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York

Copyright Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York

When you tell people they matter, often you don’t know right away – or ever – if they believe you, or are listening at all. Sometimes, you start to feel that maybe you don’t matter.

But know this: They DO Believe. They ARE Listening. You DO Matter.

In some instances you learn later about the impact you had on someone, and in some instances, you never learn about it.

But the fact remains: when you tell, and show, people that they matter, to you and to the world, you change and save lives, to a degree you can only imagine.

  • One former student showed up on my stoop 20 years later, in the dress uniform of a US Marine, to show me that he did become somebody important, as I had apparently predicted when he was five.
  • In “A Few Words From You Can Save a Life,” we share many other examples of people discussing, years or decades later, how a few words from a caring person had changed or saved their lives.

One of these instances became headline news this week, courtesy of a young man named Vidal and Brandon Stanton, the passionate and caring person behind Humans of New York. Brandon walks around NYC photographing and interviewing people, and then sharing their image and words with the tens of millions of people who read his work.

Last week, he met Vidal, a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Brownsville is not an easy place to grow up, go to school, or teach.

Brandon asks all of his subjects one or two simple questions, and then records and reports their response. This was his conversation with Vidal:

“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.

A day later, this conversation was recounted to Humans of NY’s 11+ million fans.

At the time it was published, Ms. Lopez was trying to enjoy a play with her daughter, but the world had other ideas. Suddenly, she says,

“I started to get all these text messages from my teachers and former students….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.”

Brandon met with Ms. Lopez, and learned about her struggle to convince her students that there was more to life than what they experienced in their neighborhood, and that they could become somebody important. She dreamed of taking her incoming sixth graders on a field trip to Harvard to, as I like to say, stretch their thinking and help them envision success.

When Brandon learned that such a field trip would cost $30,000, he asked his followers for $100,000, to fund three field trips. For the second time in two days, the world responded with one of the most emphatic “You Matter” statements that anyone will ever hear.

  • The $100,000 was raised in a few hours, and $300,000 in a day; ten years of field trips were funded.
  • Ms. Lopez then spoke of how a summer program would impact the lives of her students, at a cost of $40,000. Hours later, ten years’ of summer programs had funded.
  • Brandon then created the “Vidal Scholarship” to send Mott Bridges students to college, and said the first recipient would be Vidal. Currently, almost $300,000 has been raised for the scholarship fund – for a total of nearly $1 million (please consider a small donation).

How has this impacted Ms. Lopez, who brought this all on by telling her students, one-by-one, that they matter? She told her students today:

“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.”

Most of us will never learn this in such a public way – nor raise $1 million for your students as results – but when you tell people they matter, they believe you.

They are listening.

You matter.

More than you may ever know.


Click here to make a donation to the Mott Bridges Academy today!


Click here to learn about our toolkit, Mattering IS the Agenda, which helps you create a culture of mattering in your school or organization.