A Love Letter to HONY

Humans of New York, also known as HONY for short, has become a beloved social media account by millions across the world. Through various social channels, HONY shares photos and words of everyday New Yorkers captured by founder and photographer, Brandon Stanton. More than just a simple portrait, each photo tells a personal, and oftentimes intense, story.

I started following the account a few years ago when a friend of mine shared a HONY post on her page. The portrait was of a beautiful woman talking about her success since teenage pregnancy that easily brought a smile to my face and made me want to see more:

One of my all-time fav HONY posts

I was struck by the simplicity and authenticity of the page: a photographer going around NYC and getting people to talk to him about their lives. No filters or celebrity influencers, just a page dedicated to displaying real thoughts from real humans. I found HONY refreshing and since then have followed the photos on both Facebook and Instagram.

As HONY grew, Stanton began to use his talents and social media influence to extend his scope of coverage beyond only NYC. He’s traveled to photograph people in Iran, Jordan, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Ukraine, and many other countries around the world with a partnership with the UN. Most recently, his work took him to Europe where he focused on documenting the stories of refugees from the Syrian Crisis. Following this heart-wrenching series, he proceeded to return to the Middle East to interview families put through the grueling application process of getting approved to come to the States.

I won’t try to summarize the stories for you. Their words are too powerful to summarize. The impact will be greater if you go read them yourself on HONY’s blog. I will say that when HONY began sharing these posts, I found myself an emotional mix of weepy and hopeful. I cried tears of sadness for the truly tragic events these people went through. I cried tears of hope, knowing that if they could make it this far, things must get better for them soon. Either way, I was crying.

The stories usually were a series of a few photos. I was invested so much that HONY was my top searched account in both Instagram and Facebook. I was always waiting for the next posts that continued to tell their tales. I knew realistically there wasn’t too much I could do being located far away in Chile, but at the least I felt that by reading their stories and sharing their posts on my feeds it was a way of helping the cause of humanizing the refugees. I especially was impacted by Aya’s Story, as she is close to my age. I wanted to scoop her up and bring her and her family and cute dog to my home and give them so much love.

Concurrent with HONY’s coverage of these courageous souls, my newsfeed became inundated with opinions and stories of the opposite spectrum. Headings read things like “Refugee Crisis Slaps Europe in the Face”. These articles did not share the stories that I read in HONY, but rather were filled with statistics and economic statements. Newspapers discussed the refugees in numerical values instead of as human beings. Fear and worry were the main ingredients in these posts, whereas love and hope were what I took away from HONY’s photo collection.

When the Paris Attacks happened, I too wept for the horror of senseless death, but quickly became infuriated when the events were used as a political stepping stone to fuel Islamophobia. Several politicians jumped on this bandwagon of open hatred and racism, one of them being the notorious, and in my opinion “evil”, Trump. This fear had already been present, but politicians began to feed it more after November.

These vibes were present in the comments throughout HONY’s posts. While overwhelmingly the HONY community is a positive one, when an account like this is so viral, many people of all viewpoints write in the comments sections. Fear lead more people than before to leave some extremely nasty and racist comments on photos of these families. Social media users bit by the Trump-spider felt it necessary to chime in hateful words. I sensed that Staton too felt the shift in the community. When the interview series came to a culmination, he wrote a post on the subject. Below is an excerpt of it that best addresses the overall world situation and the whole post can be read here:

“There is so much fear in the world right now. And politicians know that they must win the votes of frightened people. And with their rhetoric, they are condoning prejudice in a way that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Since September 11th, forty-five people have been killed in the United States by Islamic extremists. This includes the recent attacks in California. Even though these attacks were carried out by only a handful of violent individuals, they are being used as a license to vilify millions of Americans. That is wrong and that is dangerous.”

This post was made over three months ago. While Stanton doesn’t come right out and say the dreaded name “Trump”, it was pretty apparent to whom he was referring.

As Donald Trump surges ahead in the polls, it appears he will indeed become the Republican nominee, unless a huge upset happens. With this knowledge, many people are realizing that this no longer is a joke. Trump becoming President of the United States is quite very possible.

While it can be tempting to simply run off to another country, I remain hopeful. Why, you may ask? Because celebrities, politicians, and social media influencers, like HONY, are speaking up. A few names that come to mind right now are John Oliver, Elizabeth Warren, John Legend, Trevor Noah, and Mitt Romney (the former Republican nominee?). Joining the ranks, is Brandon Stanton with these words:

“An Open Letter to Donald Trump:

Mr. Trump,

I try my hardest not to be political. I’ve refused to interview several of your fellow candidates. I didn’t want to risk any personal goodwill by appearing to take sides in a contentious election. I thought: ‘Maybe the timing is not right.’ But I realize now that there is no correct time to oppose violence and prejudice. The time is always now. Because along with millions of Americans, I’ve come to realize that opposing you is no longer a political decision. It is a moral one.

I’ve watched you retweet racist images. I’ve watched you retweet racist lies. I’ve watched you take 48 hours to disavow white supremacy. I’ve watched you joyfully encourage violence, and promise to ‘pay the legal fees’ of those who commit violence on your behalf. I’ve watched you advocate the use of torture and the murder of terrorists’ families. I’ve watched you gleefully tell stories of executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig blood. I’ve watched you compare refugees to ‘snakes,’ and claim that ‘Islam hates us.’

I am a journalist, Mr. Trump. And over the last two years I have conducted extensive interviews with hundreds of Muslims, chosen at random, on the streets of Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. I’ve also interviewed hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees across seven different countries. And I can confirm — the hateful one is you.

Those of us who have been paying attention will not allow you to rebrand yourself. You are not a ‘unifier.’ You are not ‘presidential.’ You are not a ‘victim’ of the very anger that you’ve joyfully enflamed for months. You are a man who has encouraged prejudice and violence in the pursuit of personal power. And though your words will no doubt change over the next few months, you will always remain who you are.

 Brandon Stanton”

As the message didn’t quite hit home the last time, HONY is oficially boycotting Trump. The post has gone viral on Facebook. Stanton has taken his position of respect and power on social media, and used the tools to share his thoughts.

Am I naive enough to think this will change the opinions of Trump supporters? Of course not. But standing up to a bully has to begin somewhere, and HONY is doing that. And just maybe there are some people out there who will reconsider generalizing and stereotyping refugees and Muslims by reading Stanton’s words and viewing his profiles on the Syrian refugees.

This is my love letter to HONY, a project dedicated to not only New Yorkers, but humans of the world. As you, Brandon Stanton, have posted your thoughts to Mr, Trump, these are mine to you: Thank you for giving me hope in the internet, for continuing to show me interesting and colorful people in the world, and most importantly, thanks for using your power for good.