How did the Commander in Chief wind up on a blog best known for interviewing random strangers encountered on the streets of New York? It's kind of a long story.
On January 19, HONY photographer Brandon Stanton met a middle-schooler named Vidal who happened to mention his respect for his school principal, Mrs. Lopez at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Since then, Stanton has extensively profiled the inspirational Lopez and her educators. More than $1.2 million has been raised to finance student trips to Harvard, and everyone from Robin Roberts to Ellen DeGeneres has been lining up to interview Vidal and Mrs. Lopez.
Not to be outdone, President Obama invited the crew for a pinch-me visit to the Oval Office. It only seemed fair to let Stanton get a few of his trademark HONY questions in. Below, a few highlights.
On January 19th, I met a young man on the street named Vidal, and I asked him to tell me about the person who had influenced him the most in his life. He told me about his principal, Ms. Lopez, and he explained how she had taught him that he mattered. Over the next two weeks, I learned the story of Ms. Lopez and her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy. By hearing the stories of MHBA students and educators, my eyes were opened to the unique challenges facing a school in an under-served community. Ms. Lopez taught me that before a student is ready for academic training, they must be made to understand that they deserve success. And that can be the hardest battle in education. Ms. Lopez always said that there was no place her students did not belong. Recently we received an invitation that proved just that.
“You don’t do things alone. Nobody does things alone. Everybody always needs support. For a young man like you, you should never be too afraid or too shy to look for people who can encourage you or mentor you. There are a lot of people out there who want to provide advice and support to people who are trying to do the right thing. So you’ll have a lot of people helping you. Just always remember to be open to help. Never think that you know everything. And always be ready to listen.”
“When is the time you felt most broken?” “I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ --- then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
“Who has influenced you the most in your life?” “My mother. She had me when she was 18 years old, and my father left when I was one year old, so I never really knew him. Like a lot of single moms, she had to struggle to work, and eventually she also struggled to go to school. And she’s really the person who instilled in me a sense of confidence and a sense that I could do anything. She eventually went on to get her PhD. It took her ten years, but she did it, and I watched her grind through it. And as I got older, like everyone else, I realized that my mother wasn’t all that different than me. She had her own doubts, and fears, and she wasn’t always sure of the right way of doing things. So to see her overcome tough times was very inspiring. Because that meant I could overcome tough times too.”