These Humans Of New York Stories Will Give Your Heart A Break From Pandemic News
If you haven’t heard of the humbling photoblog Humans Of New York it’s time to tune in. The popular blog created in 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton conducts and collects street portraits and interviews with people on the streets of New York City and often shares heart-rendering, real stories about the people who make up the city that never sleeps.
The ongoing pandemic has been reported to be the deadliest disaster by death toll in the history of New York City and while daily news of the city’s progress with the disease continues to prove depressing, the Humans of New York blog is working to bring brighter stories.
Check out some of the most recent posts from the blog below.
This sweet story of father-daughter support and love.
“My mom said: ‘Val has something to say to you.’ I was sitting on the stairwell, crying. And he knew right away that I was pregnant. He didn’t yell. He didn’t say anything. He just started pacing. But I knew what he was thinking: I was eighteen years old, I was his only daughter, and he thought that having a child would ruin my life. When he finally stopped pacing, he told me: you can either get an abortion or leave the house. I knew then that I’d be entirely on my own. I started saving money from each paycheck to spend on clothing and supplies. But I had no idea what I was going to do when the baby came. My father wasn’t speaking to me. There was no eye contact. No nothing. Not that he’d ever been good at expressing his emotions. His mother had died when he was a baby. He’d had a tough life. From the outside like he didn’t care, but my mother told me that he was crying himself to sleep every night. After a few weeks he began to soften. He asked to see the sonogram. It wasn’t exactly a celebration—but at least he asked to see it. On the day of my C-section, dad spent that day drinking alone—which he rarely did. He was pretty drunk by the time I left for the hospital. He didn’t say a thing. My mom just looked at him and shook her head. But I was in the hospital for five days after my son was born, and every day my dad would visit. He’d bring us food. He’d hold my son for hours at a time. And when I came back home, there was a letter waiting for me on my bed. I’ve only read it twice in my life. Because it makes me cry too much. But he apologized for his behavior. And he said that we were going to be fine. My son is eight years old now. And whenever it’s Father’s Day at school, he brings home art for Papa. The two of them are inseparable. They’re always playing something. My son is always giving him hugs, and kisses, and saying ‘I love you.’ And Papa says it back. It’s the only time he ever says it to anyone. With my son he has no choice. It’s not in Papa’s nature to be affectionate. But it’s my son’s nature. He’s so open and natural with his emotions. He’ll give love for no reason at all, and his Papa has no choice but to accept it.”
This super relatable Magical Black Girl hair tale.
““I had very thick hair as a child. But I was also very tender-headed, so I hated getting my hair combed. The first time my mother took me to the salon, I screamed bloody murder. So for the rest of my childhood she did my hair herself. And it always looked good. I grew to believe that my hair was my best quality. I could have on my best make-up, and my best outfit, but if my hair wasn’t done right—the whole thing was off. After college my boyfriend discovered the first bald spot on the back of my head. Soon afterwards I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition. The doctor told me that I could eventually lose all of my hair. I was devastated. I immediately called my mother—and she told me we were going to fight it. We prayed and prayed. We kept finding new oils and new shampoos. But the bald spot only grew bigger. My mother started doing my hair again– just like when I was a kid. And whenever a new spot appeared, she’d invent a new style to hide it. For the longest time no one knew. But it was so much stress. I’d panic if someone was behind me in the elevator. Dating was the worst. It was like: ‘Oh my gosh. How am I going to keep this a secret?’ Some mornings I’d call my mom in a moment of desperation. I’d tell her: ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to shave it off.’ But she’d talk me out of it. She’d tell me: ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to figure this out.’ But we never did. It only got worse and worse. By the age of thirty-one I was in a really dark place. And I decided to go on a fast because I needed some clarity from God. And that’s when I made the decision. The first person I told was my mom. She’d been telling me not to do it for so long—because she was scared too. But I needed her to be OK with it. I needed her to finish this journey with me. Everyone in the hair salon was nervous. The person in the next chair was nervous. Even the hairdresser was nervous. She was like: ‘Do you really want to do this?’ But then she took out the clippers, and began to shave it off. My mother was the first one to break the silence. After the first pass of the clippers, she looked closely at my head. And then she announced to the whole salon: ‘It’s going to look good!’”
This loving story about support from strangers.
“I thought studying in the US would be easy. I’d attended a UN conference in high school, so I already had a visa. I begged my father to let me go. He finally agreed and took out a loan to buy me a plane ticket. I arrived with $150 in my pocket, and stayed with a Gambian family in Maryland. For two months I visited schools, asking for financial aid—but nothing was available for people like me. I began to accept the reality that I would need to go back home. There was one last school called Montgomery College. It was a five-minute bus ride from where I was staying. And when I visited the campus, I learned about a scholarship for international students. But the deadline was approaching, and I would need to submit my application that day. I searched everywhere for a computer. I walked through the hallways looking for any door that was open. And that’s how I discovered Professor Rudin. She was sitting at her desk. She had currency from all over the world hanging on her wall. I noticed a bill from Gambia, and that’s how we started talking. I stayed for two hours. I told her my entire story, and by the end we were crying and hugging each other. Kelly researched the scholarship and learned it wouldn’t work out. But that night she spoke to her husband Tom, and they decided to pay for my school fees. They gave me money for food and clothes. Kelly drove me to Best Buy and got me a phone, and then added me to their family plan. I’m still on that plan today. For two years I lived with the Rudins. Every morning Kelly made me breakfast, and we drove to school together. She and Tom became like my parents. And her children became like my siblings. They hung pictures of me around the house. They helped with my entire education. When I graduated from Georgetown, they even paid for my father to attend the ceremony. He was so overwhelmed when he arrived. He gave Tom the biggest hug. It was such an emotional moment for me. I thought about how it all started—begging my dad to let me come to America. And here I was, four years later, graduating from Georgetown. My father was with me. And he was thanking the two human beings who took me in and called me their daughter.”
This sweet story about education and support.
“My biological mother had three kids at a young age, then dropped us all off with my aunt. It wasn’t even a legal adoption—she just signed a piece of notebook paper. My aunt already had three kids, so it was wild in that house. Summers without air. Winters without heat. I loved her to death. And she tried to keep us clothed and fed, but I can’t say that everything she did was exactly legal. She collected disability for some injury that she never wanted to talk about. And she was a bit of a thief. On the first day of school we’d go to the Salvation Army and switch our old clothes for the ones on the rack. My brothers began to model her behavior at a very young age. They drank a lot. They fought a lot. And they stole a lot. The whole town knew about us. On the first day of high school, our principal Mr. Herring pulled me aside and gave me a stern warning: ‘I know your siblings,’ he said. ‘And I hope you remember that we won’t tolerate the same behavior from you.’ I was absolutely devastated. I’d stayed out of trouble my entire life. I’d been determined to show that ‘I’ was better than ‘we.’ But apparently it hadn’t worked. So I tried even harder. I made good grades. I threw myself into musicals and drama and journalism. I even became the first student from our school to go to nationals for speech and debate. I did notice that some of the fees were waived for my activities and school trips, but I assumed everyone was getting the same treatment. Then three weeks before graduation, I was called into the principal’s office. I was horrified. I’d never been in trouble before. Mr. Herring was silent for fifteen seconds, then he said: ‘I made a huge mistake. The biggest mistake a teacher can ever make. I judged you before I ever knew you. And for that—I apologize.’ Then he got up, gave me a hug, and asked me to give a speech at our graduation ceremony. I felt so seen in that moment. After graduation I ended up going back to the school to work as a speech coach. One day I happened to be chatting with an old teacher, and I joked about how I never had to pay for my activities. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Your teachers all chipped in to pay for them. Along with Roger Herring.’”
This heartbreaking story about racism.
“I grew up in a high rise across from Coney Island. It was a great childhood, but the neighborhood started to change– and my dad didn’t like it. So he bought us a house in Long Island. It had a big backyard, and a porch. I was finally going to have my own room. We were so excited. But the day after we moved in, someone painted a message on our house. It said: ‘KKK – Niggers Move Away.’ I remember my mother started crying. But my father got angry. He said: ‘We’re not moving anywhere.’ And that same day he repainted the wall. There was one other black family on the block. And I think they had a better sense of what was going on, because they never let their kids go outside. But both my parents worked. So my sister and I hung out. Some of the kids were nice. But I started noticing the way their parents looked at me. It was a look that all black people know. The ‘what are you doing here?’ look. We lived on a canal, so a lot of the families had boats. And sometimes the kids would play in them while they were tied to the dock. But one day my friend Donna got called into her house. And when she came back, she told me I needed to leave. Because black people weren’t allowed in the boat. I was only eight years old. I cried the whole way home. Things got even worse when school started. Two boys named Dante and Michael would follow me to the bus stop. It was a quarter mile walk, but it felt like an eternity. They’d kick, and move away. Kick, and move away. Dante had corrective shoes with heavy soles, so his kicks hurt the most. The whole time they’d call me ‘monkey’ and ‘tar baby.’ There was nothing I could say to them. Nothing I could change. These kids were kicking me for no reason, and that’s what hurt the most. Deep down I knew I was a good person, but nobody saw that. And when you’re a kid, you don’t know enough to be mad about it. You just think that’s the way things are. And you sorta move on with your life. But you can’t move on completely. Recently my company held a George Floyd memorial. And my boss asked me to share my story during the video conference. When I told about those kicks, I started crying. So I guess that little girl is still in there somewhere.”
This sweet story about going from child to friend.
“Even though my dad is six-foot-seven, he’s not scary at all. He listens to a lot of Reggae music. And I don’t think I can ever remember him yelling. When I was really young, he used to get on the ground and play Barbies with me. And every morning he’d lift me out of bed, and insist that I carry out my duties as princess. He’d carry me downstairs and make me wave to my ‘royal subjects’– which was nobody, because it was just an empty living room. He’s always been a really mellow guy. I know his life hasn’t been easy. His brother passed away when he was fourteen. His father drowned at the beach while he stood on the shore. So he’s seen a lot of tragedy, but he’s always been really strong. Growing up I never saw him cry. I was the emotional one. I’d cry during arguments. Or when something sad came on the news. Or during sad movies. But he never lost his composure. I think he enjoyed being the strong one so that he could comfort me. During my senior year of high school, my mom had to work in another state. So it was just me and Dad for awhile. And we became very close. Our bond became more of a friendship. We cooked our meals together. We went shopping together. His mother passed away that year, so I helped him with all the funeral arrangements. I know it was really hard for him, but during the entire process– I never saw him cry. At the end of the summer I left for college at Florida State. My whole family came down for the weekend to help me move in. We set up my entire apartment. Then Sunday night came around, and it was time for everyone to go. Mom went out to the parking lot first because she didn’t want to get emotional. Dad stayed behind to help me hang some final décor. Then, when everything was in place, he gave me one last hug and started walking down the stairs. I was right behind him. And something about seeing him walk down those stairs felt so final. And everything hit me at once. I stopped and began to cry. He turned around, walked back up the stairs, and gave me the biggest hug. He told me that he loved me. I didn’t look at his face. And we never talked about it. But I could feel his shoulders shaking. And I knew that he was crying too.”
This unshakeable bond.
“It’s not that my dad has a problem talking about his past. He’s just naturally very reserved. So if the topic doesn’t come up in conversation, it doesn’t come up. I learned about his history in bits and pieces. He grew up under Apartheid in Namibia. He rebelled against the leadership and spent most of his twenties in refugee camps, until an NGO gave him a scholarship to study in America. By the time I was born he was a software engineer. And that’s how I always knew him. I was more intimidated by him than anything. He was an African dad, so he was very strict about certain things. He’d make me practice piano. And go to robotics camp. He used to take me to these enrichment courses after school. Most of my friends would be playing outside, and I’d be doing extra math problems. And he didn’t care how I felt about it. He’d explain that it was an investment in my future, and that one day I’d be thankful. On the drive home I’d put my Taylor Swift CD in the player, and play the song ‘Mean’– because I never had the courage to call him that directly. I always compared him to my mom. She was the more emotive of the two. She’d listen to my frustrations. And ever since I was a little girl, she was the one I gravitated toward. But halfway through high school she suffered some mental health issues. She became vindictive and angry, until eventually she decided to leave. And ever since then it’s just been me and Dad. At first we got in a lot of fights. We had to go to therapy to learn how to communicate. We talked through our guilt, and anger, and sadness. And we grew closer. We became a tag team. He started showing interest in the more mundane parts of my life. My friendships. My crushes. I know he loved going on my college tours with me. And I’ve let go of the need for him to be emotional. I’ve stopped looking for that in him. Because he’s the same that he’s always been. And even when I thought he was being ‘mean,’ he was thinking about my future. He might have been strict, but he was showing up. He was unshakable. He was my sense of continuity. And after all the heartbreak we’ve been through, he’s the one that’s still here.”
This sweet story about step-father love.
“I was five when he became a person in my world. I didn’t know exactly who he was. I just knew that there was someone around that was making my mother smile. I had to look way up to see him. I’d never met someone so strong. He’d tell me to hold onto his wrist, and he’d lift me into the sky with one hand. He worked at an auto shop, airbrushing designs onto the side of vans. I think he dreamed of being an artist. But he needed something more stable. So after he decided to marry my mom, he became a cop. He never lost touch with his creative side. He was always building things around the house—making things look fancier than we could afford. He built my first bike from scraps. He encouraged me to read. He encouraged me to write. He loved giving me little assignments. He’d give me a quarter every time I wrote a story. Fifty cents if it was a good one. Whenever I asked a question, he’d make me look it up in the encyclopedia. One day he built a little art studio at the back of our house. And he painted a single painting—a portrait of Sting that he copied from an album cover. But he got busy with work and never used the studio again. He was always saying: ‘when I retire.’ ‘I’ll go back to art, when I retire.’ ‘I’ll show in a gallery, when I retire.’ But that time never came. Dad was a cop for twenty years. He was one of the good ones. The kind of cop you see dancing on the street corner. Or skateboarding with kids. But in 1998 he was diagnosed with MS. First there was a little weakness. Then there was a cane. Then there was a wheelchair. It got to the point where he couldn’t even hold a paintbrush. We did his hospice at home. He seemed to have no regrets. He’d been a wonderful provider. He’d raised his daughters. He’d walked me down the aisle. During his final days, we were going through his possessions, one by one. He was telling me who to give them to. I pulled the Sting painting out of an old box, and asked: ‘What should I do with this?’ His response was immediate. ‘Give it to Sting,’ he said. All of us started laughing. But Dad grew very serious. His eyes narrowed. He looked right at me, and said: ‘Give it to Sting.’ So I guess that’s my final assignment.”
This super sweet and heartbreaking best friend story.
“Leah was my absolute best friend. She was an only child too, so it was this next level sisterly bond. Her boyfriend Rasual became like a brother as well. He valued Leah’s friendships—so we became like a family. One night the two of them were driving home and lost control of their vehicle. Both of them passed away– instantly. My grieving process was very hard. People were worried about me. The everyday, basic things became so difficult. I wasn’t cooking dinner for my kids. I wasn’t painting very much. Then one year after their death, I got invited to exhibit at an art show in Cleveland. It was on the anniversary of Leah’s funeral. I’m not even sure why I accepted the invitation. While I was getting ready in my hotel room, I remember saying a little prayer. I said: ‘Leah, I love you so much, but help me get through tonight without talking about you. Just one night.’ I arrived at the event and noticed that I’d be sharing my wall with another artist. His name was Bonic. He was deep in conversation with someone. The first thing I noticed was his voice. It was a very strong voice. And it was so familiar. I introduced myself, and told him: ‘This is going to sound crazy, but your voice sounds just like my friend who passed away.’ And he said: ‘Do you mean Rasual?’ It turns out that he’d known Leah and Rasual for years. He recognized me from their memorial service. That was over a year ago. Since then, Bonic and I have done so many collaborations. We’ve been all over the world together. He’s great with my kids. He’s my soul mate. Without question—he was the reason I was at that show. At the end of that night, I went back to my hotel room, and I wrote an entry in my journal. I wrote the date, and a single line: ‘Leah—did you send him to me?’ #quarantinestories