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By Angela Maiers

They Are Listening, and They Do Believe You

They Are Listening, and They Do Believe You

Vidal Chastanet. Copyright 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 do.

One of these instances became headline news this year, 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.

A few years ago, 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 that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built.

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.

The next day, 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. 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. $700,000 has been raised for the scholarship fund – for a total of $1.4 million.

In the following days, Mrs. Lopez, Vidal and Brandon appeared on The Ellen Show and visited President Obama in the Oval Office.

How did this impact Ms. Lopez, who brought this all on by telling her students, one-by-one, that they matter? She told her students upon returning to school:

“I have something to admit. Before this happened, I was about to give up. I was broken. 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.’ 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. Because even though I always tell you that you matter, up until that moment when I read Vidal’s comments, I didn’t feel like I mattered.”

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.