When was the last time you felt broken?
After becoming a viral sensation following a now famous post on the Humans of New York blog, Nadia Lopez, principal of the Brownsville school Mott Hall Bridges Academy, asked the President of the United States this deeply personal question. The question stemmed from Lopez’s recent experience. Before her student, 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet, was stopped by Brandon Stanton, creator of the Humans of New York blog, Lopez was on the brink of giving up. She speaks openly about feeling broken and wanting to quit right before her breakthrough moment.
Luckily for us, she kept going. As a result, she’s making a difference on a larger scale. After the HONY post went viral, before meeting the President, Stanton launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise 100K for scholars at the Brownsville school to take an annual field trip to Harvard. The campaign made history, raising 100K in only 45 minutes and ultimately raising 1.4 million dollars.
Lopez says she opened a school in order to close a prison. This is by no means an easy task. There are moments of opposition and feelings of turning your back and feelings that your efforts do not matter. Then one day a student credits you as having the greatest influence in his life on the blog Humans of New York and suddenly your world completely changes. Nadia Lopez is truly a Black girl who rocks but life for Lopez is not all star studded award ceremonies and meetings with the President.
Her Agenda spoke with Nadia about the challenges facing women of color in leadership in education, the importance of vision and the power of self.
Her Agenda: Did you always see yourself in education? What guided you toward that path?
Nadia Lopez: No, I did not see myself in education. Overall, I knew that I would have an impact on people and that I would be helping people, but I did not know that it would be in the capacity of education. After giving birth to my daughter I realized that I wanted to have an influence on children. I understood that my daughter would have access to a good quality education but many other children would not. It is so important to have adults in the classroom who think every child is significant and every child can be great. I wanted to be that person so I became a New York City Teaching Fellow.
Her Agenda: What made you decide to open up your own school? That is a mammoth task, how were you able to do it?
Nadia Lopez: The first school I was in had a high poverty rate. I saw that despite all the challenges students faced they were resilient. The students realized that as long there was an adult in the building who really cared about them, they would come to school every day without fail. Unfortunately, there were people in administrative positions who were not supportive. There was a college fair one day and I wanted my students to be able to attend. I was not able to bring my students to the college fair and I was told ‘do you really think your students are going to make it college?’ I could not understand how any adult in a school could really think in such a negative way. Another issue I saw in that school was not a lot of building of capacity. There were many others who would’ve been great to serve in leader roles but were not allowed to. These people became hardened and hardened people are not healthy for students. I knew I had to transition out of that space. I became a founding teacher at a new school that was built from the ground up. I was really able to learn and grow into a principal.
Her Agenda: There are many women in the classroom as teachers, but far less as administrators. How do you navigate the space as a female principal of color? What challenges have you had to overcome? What challenges do you still face?
Nadia Lopez: There are always people who question your skills and intellect. As a woman of color, I have to deal with biases and preconceived notions. We have to fight more to prove ourselves. If you don’t have a voice and say ‘I will not be treated less than’ and become the example, then people will continue to say that you don’t deserve to be treated as an equal.
Her Agenda: 2015 has been an amazing year for you. Have you had any aha moments? What do you hope to add to your legacy going forward?
Nadia Lopez: An aha moment I had is related to the importance of vision. I have a life coach and she had me write down my vision and create a vision board. She helped me capture my vision and make it plain. Everything that I accomplished in 2015 was on my vision board or written down in my vision book. Be sensitive to the energy around you and continue to write down your vision.
Her Agenda: You have stated that just before the Humans of New York post went viral, you were at a point of giving up because you felt like you weren’t making a difference. What got you out of bed that next morning and the days that followed?
Nadia Lopez: It was my faith. At that time, I was feeling a heaviness and extreme sadness. I was burned out and just wanted to be a mom. It was Christmas day and there was a snowstorm. I was unable to drive down to Atlanta, so I took my family to see the movie Selma. It was so profound. The fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was willing to die for his convictions and to continue fighting for a cause greater than himself– the magnitude of what his work meant to so many others, I realized [in that moment] that my work is not about me. It’s about what I’m called to do and that is to serve God by serving children. I went into the New Year with a renewed commitment, but it was still challenging. I decided I had to focus on the positive things that were in my power to do and not the negative forces that were against me. Shortly after I accepted this, the Humans of New York Post went viral.
Her Agenda: Do you have a guiding principle that you live by or a personal mantra?
Nadia Lopez: Live in your truth and be steadfast in your convictions. You can’t waiver in your convictions. The things that I would die for and firmly believe in are my faith in God, my family, and education. Those three things are the standouts for me. When you believe in something nothing else matters. With every criticism that comes, your thoughts return to your convictions.
Her Agenda: You have a teenage daughter what lessons do you hope she is learning from you?
Nadia Lopez: I always tell my daughter you have to believe in the power of self. I hope she gets that. I take her everywhere I go. From meeting President Barack Obama to Black Girls Rock, my daughter is there. I want her to know how much hard work pays off and understand that I have never had to compromise on myself and my convictions.
Principal Nadia Lopez: The impact of Humans of New York “We can take these children where they want to go”Nadia Lopez (The Lopez Effect) reminds educators of the impact their words can have on the success of their students and the impact Humans of New York had on her and the scholars at Mott Hall Bridges Academy.
Posted by U.S. Department of Education on Friday, February 6, 2015