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Leadership Lessons | Humans of New York and Mott Hall Bridges Academy

A Black woman leads a classroom.

What happens when the untold story of a quietly impactful leader becomes the subject of a widely-read platform like Humans of New York? In one particular case, through a flurry of hearts touched, comments shared, and ideas birthed, what has emerged is a movement with social impact.

Recently, HONY founder and photographer Brandon Stanton shared a photo of Vidal, a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy who expressed his principal’s strong influence in his life. Inspiring nearly 20,000 people to comment, Ms. Lopez’s reach went beyond the students at her school to countless others who were inspired and encouraged by her words and actions. The comments called out desires to have more people like Ms. Lopez in the world, to strive to be (more like) Ms. Lopez, and to take action to help.

The conversation continued and the ideas mulled about led to the creation of a widely successful fundraising campaign to help sponsor trips to Harvard (over $1 million so far!), and prompted us to reflect on a few things we noticed about this remarkable story:

Being a great “you” causes others to notice, even if you’re not aware of it (and even if you doubt it).

Ms. Lopez was being Ms. Lopez before her HONY success. While Vidal may have been the one approached by Stanton, most likely there are many others who, if asked about Ms. Lopez would speak of her in the same way.

That being said, she mentioned that she sometimes doubted her work, often to the point of wanting resign. But hearing people from all over the world not only wanting support Mott Hall but also wanting to know more about the great work going on her school was another reminder that you have an impact on others...even when you doubt it.

What seems “simple” or “small” can actually have a major impact.

Vidal shared that Ms. Lopez would have each student stand up and tell them that they matter. Perhaps that action takes a mere 10 seconds per student, but can imprint each one’s life greatly. Similarly, a fundraiser got off the ground from the question, “What resources does Ms. Lopez need to better serve her students?” The inquiry required minimal time to ask but led to big impact, resulting in a campaign that raised eight times more than its goal in less than a week.

Sharing stories of how others take action can spur on more action and remind others that their work matters.

Once Stanton spent more time in the school, speaking with staff members, one thing that became apparent was that many of them had a person or a moment that reminded them to keep going. What if we captured these moments and shared them more widely? HONY has become a powerful platform for these kinds of stories, but how often do we tell people that they have had an impact on us? It’s a reminder that when you see good taking place in the world, share it. It is when we spread the message or the experience that others are driven to emulate or help.

The success of this story suggests that there are so many more untold tales of quietly impactful leaders, many of whom we may know nothing about (yet) and that we can affect others even if we doubt it.

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by Victoria Crispo

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