My favorite social network account to follow is @humansofny and if you haven’t followed this guy yet, yes, you’re late to the party but don’t worry, because you’re still invited.
The concept behind Humans of New York is profoundly and beautifully simple: talking to people. And the results that come from this simple concept are amazing and heartwarming. Strangers share their stories, thoughts, opinions in often completely candid, raw and unexpected ways, thus allowing us to meet and to apply a personal context to someone we probably would have nonchalantly passed on the street.
A simple camera lens wielded by New Yorker Brandon Stanton, coupled with a brief caption, is the inviting portal in which you enter the life of someone you don’t even know. Often I am amazed at how deep these strangers go into their stories, and maybe there is a lesson in that. That so many of us have something inside of us waiting to be heard by those who will listen. It is a poignant reminder that everyone bares within them a great story that is worth sharing.
What started out as one altruistic photographer’s city-wide movement, has taken him on a 50 day, 10 country journey across the world, giving voices, platforms, insight, to the in depth life experiences of a beautiful mosaic of people.
In his trek across the world, we come face to face with individuals whose realities are so distant from our own. Humans of NY zooms in on the individual who is living beneath the generically and mass produced news reports, who calls these places home, who lives in the reality of the television program that we can so easily switch off and then proceed with our own daily routine, relatively unaffected.
Within these inconceivable realities, we discover significant beauty among the colorful cultures we are not often exposed to oceans away. Whether their stories be triumphant, tragic, funny, sad, chilling or heartwarming, they all leave a lasting impression, a unifying bond between distant strangers, via relatable circumstance or new perspective.
Click through the gallery to view my favorite stories from his journey:
“We live in a very conservative culture, but I want my children to be open minded. I try to bring them to as many places as possible: big malls, art galleries, concerts. We want them to see as many types of people as possible, and as many types of ideas as possible.” (Erbil, Iraq)
“When I got accepted into the Master’s program at the University of Damascus, it felt like the whole world was in my hands. For the last three weeks before the exam, I studied for 20 hours every day. My eyes got so tired and swollen that I could not see the letters anymore. So when I heard that I passed, I felt that nothing was impossible. All my friends and family were surrounding me and kissing me.” “How did you celebrate?” “Well, we were poor. So I bought a Pepsi to share with my friends.”
“I was going to one of my first exams, and suddenly there was a bombing. In downtown Damascus! I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t think this was possible. Windows were broken everywhere, and there were people on the ground, and the sounds of ambulances. Then over the next few weeks, everything changed. The taxis in the streets were replaced by tanks. You no longer knew who was your friend and who was your enemy. Suddenly you could be killed, and nobody would ask why. Before war, you have rights. People will ask why you were killed. When war comes, nobody asks why you were killed anymore.” (Erbil, Iraq)
“What happened to your arm?” “I was walking down the stairs and looking at the stars.” (Amman, Jordan)
“We don’t like pictures like this. It is not good to deduce an entire country to the image of a person reaching out for food. It is not good for people to see us like this, and it is not good for us to see ourselves like this. This gives us no dignity. We don’t want to be shown as a country of people waiting for someone to bring us food. Congo has an incredible amount of farmland. An incredible amount of resources. Yes, we have a lot of problems. But food is not what we are reaching for. We need investment. We need the means to develop ourselves.” (Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo)
“I was about to leave for work the other day, so I stopped in her room to wake her up. And the first thing she said was: ‘Dad, I need a surprise.’ I said: ‘You need a what?’ She said: ‘I need a surprise.’ So I ran to the store and got her a doll, brought it to her, and went to work.” (Nairobi, Kenya)
“What’s surprised you most about being a parent?” “The feeling of being called ‘Dad.’ It’s the best feeling on earth. The first time my daughter called me ‘Dad,’ we were playing hide and go seek. I was pretending that I couldn’t find her, and I kept searching and searching, until finally she screamed: ‘Dad!’ It almost made me cry. It made me feel like Superman.’” (Nairobi, Kenya)
“I was seven years old when it happened. It was about 9 pm at night. We heard the neighbors screaming so we knew that the rebels were in the village. There were many people visiting in my house at the time, so all the men gathered in the main room. We had no guns, only knives. Soon the dog started barking, then we heard footsteps, and then we heard a knock on the door. They started calling for my father to come out. We didn’t answer, so they started shooting into the house. Everyone pushed against the door to try to keep it closed, but they knocked it down. My father saw that he couldn’t run, so he gave himself up. They took him away. Then they gathered all the men and boys, and marched us out of the back of the house. My brother tried to jump and climb up on the roof, but they saw him and shot him. I knew I had to try something different, so I waited until we were rounding a corner, and I jumped into a bush, and I kept crawling until I reached the other side, then I got up and ran. I ran all the way to the neighbor’s house, but they turned me away and locked the door. So I hid all night in the graveyard. The next day I returned to my house. They’d taken everything. They dumped my sick mother onto the floor and took her mattress. I found my father’s body in the barn. They’d cut off his arms and his legs.” (Kampala, Uganda)
“What’s the most important thing your dad has ever taught you?” “If someone hurts your feelings, don’t worry, because that person will also have a turn to get their feelings hurt. And also, you should never undermine people or make them feel unimportant. And also, if you drop out of school, he won’t deal with you anymore.” (Kampala, Uganda)
“Do you remember the happiest moment of your life?” “One day, I was sent home from my final exams because my mother had not been able to pay the registration fees. On the way home, a man came up to me and asked what was wrong. ‘Nothing,’ I told him. He asked me again. So I told him that I’d been sent home from school. He then gave me the money I needed to take my exams. I’d never seen him before, and I’ve never seen him again.” (Entebbe, Uganda)
“My father left for war in 1992, and never came home. Our mother didn’t tell us he was dead for a long time. We just thought he was still fighting. But one day we were being extremely difficult, and she started crying, and said: “Please behave. I’m a single mother now. So I’m going to need your help.” (Juba, South Sudan)
“When the fighting started, we ran and hid in a school. But soon they pulled up a car with a large machine gun mounted on the back. They began to fire through the walls. My children and I ran in different directions. I ran into the bush and cried for four days because I was sure that they were dead. But when I finally made it here, I found them here too.” (Tongping Internally Displaced Persons Site, Juba, South Sudan)
“We went to war when we were 18.” “What’s your strongest memory from the war?” “My unit was being transported by train when German planes began to attack us. We jumped out and started to run across a field. I had to carry my wounded friend on my shoulders, so I was moving pretty slow. One of the planes circled around, and dropped a bomb right near me. I felt something hit me in the back and I got thrown to the ground. I thought for sure I was hit, but I couldn’t see any blood. When I finally got to some cover, I pulled my backpack off my back, and saw that it had a giant hole in it. When I opened it up, I discovered that a piece of shrapnel had torn through everything and lodged itself in the leather sole of my boot.” (Bila Tserkva, Ukraine)
“I’m 66, but I bike 55 kilometers every day. I don’t get much from my pension, so I ride along this road and pick up metal scraps to bring to the collection center. I ride my bike everywhere. A few months ago, I rode 170 kilometers to visit my daughter. I left at noon and got there before dark. I wasn’t even rushing!” (Bila Tserkva, Ukraine)
“What’s your biggest dream for your child?” “We’ll let him dream for himself.” (New Delhi, India)
Humans of New York “Let me tell you about my son. When Aditya was born, there was a very popular television show on the air, and the main character was named Lord Rama. Lord Rama was known as a revealer of truth. So I joked with my best friend that my son was going to be just like Lord Rama, and he was going to bring a great truth into the world. Sixteen years later, that very same friend called me while I was out of town on vacation. ‘Uptal!’ he screamed. ‘Uptal! Turn on the TV! Your son is on the TV! He’s just like Lord Rama!’ ‘What channel?’ I asked. ‘Any channel!’ he screamed. So I turned on the television. And there he was. I hadn’t known it, but while I was gone, he had started a petition on the internet. He was only sixteen years old at the time, and he had started an online petition calling for the government to reopen an old rape case. The case was nearly ten years old, and it involved the son of a very powerful government official. The son had raped and murdered a girl, and even though the evidence was overwhelming, he was only given three years in prison because of his family’s connections. So Aditya started this petition to reopen the case. And soon it had millions of signatures! A sixteen year old boy! I couldn’t believe it! I called his mother, and she was very scared. The men he was challenging were very powerful, and had many powerful friends. Soon Aditya was on the cover of every newspaper: ‘Young Boy Challenges Mafia,” the newspapers said. TV cameras were lining up in front of our house. His mother and I were very scared for him, and wanted him to lay low, but he insisted on doing every interview. He went on all the TV shows. Soon he started a protest right here at India Gate. He announced: ‘I am going to sit here until the case is reopened.’ Thousands of people joined him. All the famous musicians and Bollywood stars came to join him. The largest magazine in India called him ‘the country’s youngest icon.’ Soon after the protest began, the chief judge of the Supreme Court announced he was reopening the case. When the new trial was finished, the man had been given a life sentence!” (New Delhi, India)
“I was in the infantry. We were stationed in Laos when we heard on the radio that the treaty was signed and the war was over. Everyone started celebrating and screaming and lifting each other in the air. None of us cared that we’d lost the war. We were so tired of fighting. When we heard the news, we started waving our arms and celebrating with the same North Vietnamese soldiers that we’d been shooting at the day before. The times had made us fight each other. But we were all still Vietnamese.” (Ho Chi Minh City \ Saigon, Vietnam)
“I’d had five operations on my uterus, and after the last one, the doctor sat me down and told me that I would never have a child. He scheduled a surgery to have my uterus completely removed. I wanted a baby so much, so it was almost like hearing that my life was over. One week later, I started feeling strange. I started craving bread and falling asleep early, but I’ve always had problems with my hormone levels, so I thought it was nothing. My friends would joke that I was pregnant, but it was too hurtful for me to even joke about. Then after three months, I felt so bad that I had to spend a day in bed, and after that my friend drove me to the pharmacy and forced me to take a pregnancy test. I came home and laid the test on the counter without even looking at it. I didn’t want to be let down again. Then right before I went to bed, I finally looked, and there it was. After all these years, I still have that test. One month before they were going to remove my uterus, I’d finally gotten pregnant.” (Mexico City, Mexico)
“I started working in the fields when I was five. After that, I worked construction for thirty years. Eight years ago, I was between jobs and I wanted to do something useful, so I started going to school. It took me 8 years to get through middle school, because I could only go to classes when work was slow, but I finished with a 9.3 out of 10. Now I’m moving on to high school. The toughest part is Algebra.” (Mexico City, Mexico)
“I think all the pressure that I put on myself has been paralyzing. When I graduated from high school, a lot of people wrote in my yearbook: ‘You’re going to do great things,’ or ‘I know you’re going to make it big.’ I realized recently that with all the time I spent trying to figure out what my ‘big thing’ was going to be, I passed over a lot of small things that could have really added up. The moment I became content with taking small steps, I started moving forward again.” (Mexico City, Mexico)
“He’s like an angel. When he was younger, he would pass by our store everyday. He couldn’t speak back then. He couldn’t even say his name, but he always passed by the store and gave off the warmest feelings. My father began to invite him in, and soon he was coming by the store every day to play. When he started spending time with us, he began to improve very quickly. We told him we needed his help with the shop. We think that all he needed was something to hope for. He began to tell us all about his feelings. He visited with everyone who came into the shop. He learned bits of English and Japanese. He changed our lives so much. My father loved him like a son, and he loved my father. They would always laugh together and dance together. When my Father died, he was very sad for five months. He still prays for my father every time he eats a meal. Lately, all he can talk about is a girl in his class that he wants to marry. She also has Down Syndrome. Every day he talks about the wedding he will have, and he invites everyone he sees. He has invited over 5,000 people so far. He tells each person what they are supposed to bring to the wedding. His father will not allow him to get married. But we are thinking about having a ‘wedding party,’ and inviting everyone in the town.”
“Would you like to come to my wedding? You will be in charge of bringing the tea!” (Jerusalem)
“I was the youngest in the family. I went to Israel first, and the rest of the family was supposed to join me. Nobody made it. We sent letters to each other for the first few years. The last letter I got from Poland came in 1941. It was from my mother. It asked me to send food. Then the letters stopped. I knew that the Germans had occupied Poland, and I heard rumors about the things that were happening. I never learned the specifics of what happened to my family. I never wanted to.”
“I met him in a youth movement when I was 15. In the old days things we moved very slow. We took a long time to fall in love mentally. Then one night we decided to go see a movie, and there was a blackout in the theater. And because nobody could see… we held hands. Oh man, that was a very big deal back then! Then a few weeks later, he brought me an orange. Oranges were very rare! There were no oranges anywhere. That’s when he got his kiss.”
“There have been very good parts and very bad parts, but in the end, I love life. Every night before I sleep, I ask God for three more years, so that I can make it an even one hundred. Then I recite a blessing that my mother gave me when I left her in Poland. It was the last time I saw her. The blessing is much more powerful in Hebrew, but it says: ‘Wherever you go, may people always recognize that you have a beautiful heart.’” (Jerusalem)
Lauren is based in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to writing here on Pursuit of Daydreams, Lauren’s daydreams consist of all forms of design: Graphic, Fashion, Web, Interior, Art. On any given day, she can be found preoccupied with at least one of the above. She is happiest with a bowl of ice cream in hand.