Humans of New York, the popular photo blog, has recently sparked a massive fundraiser for Mott Hall Bridges Academy. The school is located in Brownsville, a neighborhood in east Brooklyn that is known as one of New York City’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Brandon Stanton, who documents people he passes on the streets of New York through photographs and snippets of conversation, came across Vidal while in Brownsville. In his conversation with Vidal Chastanet, a 13-year-old from Brownsville, Stanton asked a series of questions that made him aware of the issues facing the school’s students.

“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?” Stanton asked.

“My principal, Ms. Lopez,” Vidal answered. “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.”

Brownsville, an impoverished area known for high crime rates, violence, and housing projects, is anything but an ideal place for anyone to live. Within the neighborhood, residents are subject to the possibility of becoming a victim or witness to a crime. Within this community, children are exposed to constant fear and violence as they grow up. Yet in such an area where there is massive room for improvement but seemingly very little hope for it, we find Ms. Lopez.

This neighborhood is a world in itself, in which violence is a constant and the values that it instills in those who grow up there are skewed, based on survival rather than quality of life.

On the outside, it’s hard to fathom why these things don’t change, for it should be instinctual to try to increase one’s quality of life. A vicious cycle is present, in which inferior education leads to a low-grade occupation that makes it difficult for residents to leave these types of neighborhoods. Without a strong education, children that begin their lives in these areas have very little hope for escaping this cycle. For many of us, this type of life seems worlds away. When we feel this separation, we also feel no responsibility for the lives of those who are subject to these conditions. This is exactly what needs to change, and in the actions of individuals like Ms. Lopez, we can see the importance of our own actions.

It is unfair that anyone, let alone children, must live in fear and uncertainty, beginning life on unequal footing. But life does not recognize these disadvantages, and neither does Ms. Lopez.

“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,” explains Ms. Lopez. “We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’…When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed”

It is in this motto that change can be expected. A similar mentality is also instilled in the teachers of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, who encourage their scholars to work to be the best person they can be. They challenge the nature of the neighborhood, and look to provide a safe, productive space that allows for scholars to find a chance to succeed.

These are the people we need to see more of in the world, those who believe with strong conviction that they can use their existence to better the lives of others, even when they are unsure if they are truly making an impact.

Ms. Lopez and her staff, all of whom possess the same durability and strength, continued to walk into Mott Hall Bridges Academy each day, fully aware of what faced them inside: huge gaps in knowledge, frustration, and no guarantee that their efforts made a difference.

However, these individuals persisted, enough so that when Vidal was presented with the question that sparked it all, he was compelled to mention his principal. Though she had no intention of drawing national attention to herself or her school, her pursuit to be a strong role model for these children and her insistence that each person has value led to a single young man to immediately think of her.

The world, of course, is filled with these people, who want to see change and look to be sure their actions are propelled towards promoting a better place to live. However, they are not necessarily recognized.

Individuals who work to promote change without any expectation of immediate results will be able to change the world. The only expectation that they have is for themselves, that they have the ability to mold the world into what they want it to be, whether or not they receive credit. Patience, persistence, and confidence are necessary, though difficult to constantly embody.

It is in Ms. Lopez that we find a person who works for the good of others without any guarantee of gratitude, and she is not the only one. These types of people can be found everywhere, but lack of recognition is a hindrance that threatens to discourage individuals from acting upon their convictions to change the world.

While media attention is geared towards the newest iPhone and celebrity scandals, these people continue to act in ways that deserve twice as much attention.

Yet they persist and continue in their work. And finally, in the long overdue national exposure of Ms. Lopez and her attitudes and actions, we are reminded of the true goodness that is in the world, and the potential there is for change, as long as one is willing to put in the effort.

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