The story of Ms. Lopez and her commitment to her students sparked a campaign that went viral. (photo via Humans of New York/Facebook)

When a young boy from Brooklyn attending Mott Hall Bridges Academy told a photographer about the most influential person in his life — his principal, Ms. Nadia Lopez — I’m sure he had no idea her life or the lives of him and his classmates were about to change.

That photographer was Brandon Stanton of the wildly popular blog and Facebook page Humans of New York (HONY). He decided to speak with Ms. Lopez himself after the response to posting a photo of the boy gained such an overwhelmingly positive response from the online community.

Where most teachers and principals refer to the children in their schools as “students,” Ms. Lopez and the staff at Mott Hall Bridges Academy calls them by another name: scholars. The primary school color is purple — the color of royalty, to reinforce the fact these children come from great lineages.

This rhetoric is highly important when talking about these middle schoolers, as Mott Hall is located in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn with the highest crime rate in all of New York City.

"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."
“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.”

As with so many other disadvantaged youth, the students at Mott Hall aren’t typically expected to succeed because of their environment, but Ms. Lopez is seeking to change that for each incoming class of 6th graders in her school in part by taking them to visit Harvard University.

The school has many needs, but Ms. Lopez understands “a visit to Harvard is more than just a visit to Harvard.” It would be a life-changing experience for her scholars, many of whom have never been outside of New York state, or the city, for that matter. It’s been often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and the idea is no different for these Mott Hall scholars who need to understand the limitlessness of their potential, despite the present conditions of their surrounding environment.

Stanton understood just how powerful Mott Hall’s vision was for these middle school scholars. Stanton, Lopez and the assistant principal of Mott Hall, Ms. Achu, also knew appealing to the readers of HONY on social media could help. In fact, Humans of New York has over 11 million Facebook followers, alone.

photo of Ms. Lopez and her philosophy around the education of her scholars went viral — gathering over 500,000 likes and over 47,000 shares. So Stanton decided to collaborate with Ms. Lopez to launch a crowdfunding campaign appealing to the HONY community and folks online at large to make her vision happen.

Mott Hall Bridges Academy students pose for Humans of New York campaign picture.
Mott Hall Bridges Academy students pose for Humans of New York campaign picture.

The results have been astounding, to say the least. Initially, Ms. Lopez’s goal was to raise $100,000 by February 5th to fund the Harvard visit program for the next three years. Mott Hall raised that amount in less than one hour.

Currently, the campaign has raised well over $500,000 for the the trip, with two weeks still remaining. It’s enough to make the Harvard trip a permanent fixture in the school’s curriculum. It’s also enough to create a summer enrichment program to prevent what Ms. Lopez calls the “summer slide,” the steep regression in the retaining of information for students who don’t engage actively in learning activities over the summer break. Additionally, the summer program would provide a safe space for the scholars to come to.

That’s the power of social media, and more importantly, of authentic story-telling and a highly engaged online audience. Without the ability to crowdfund online and to promote the campaign via social media, raising over half a million dollars in two days would not have been as foreseeable. In fact, it likely would have been an impossible feat.

Not only are Ms. Lopez and the staff at Mott Hall defying the odds to help their scholars succeed, they’ve also defied the odds around crowdfunding, too. Though it’s being seen as a booming new industry, you can’t browse the internet without bumping into at least a few campaigns: people are being inundated by them online. So, it’s only with the right appeal, storytelling, audience and marketing will any given campaign reach its goals. In fact, according to Fundable, the average crowdfunding campaign is only $7,000, and campaigns that earn 30% of their goal within the first week are likely to succeed. Even more sobering, about 60% of campaigners never meet their goals.

Mott Hall has surpassed their goals five times over, all because of a powerful vision, the committed leadership of Ms. Lopez and an online community that makes up Humans of New York; “ the most warm-hearted group of people on the internet.”

That’s news we could all use.

Follow Courtney Herring on Twitter @gochampmedia