Obama meets boy who inspired $1 million fundraiser

Story highlights

  • A "Humans of New York" portrait inspires a visit to White House
  • One student had named his principal as his inspiration in the photo blog
  • He inspired a fundraiser to pay for school trips to Harvard, summer studies, scholarships

(CNN)Middle school student Vidal Chastanet was simply stating his truth about the school principal who inspires him in his rough Brooklyn neighborhood.

Featured in the wildly popular "Humans of New York" photo series in January, a picture of Chastanet along with his sentiments went viral, and a subsequent fundraiser pulled in more than $1 million for his school.
That's how Chastanet, 13, ended up at the White House on Thursday.
    The young man; his inspirational principal, Nadia Lopez; and "Humans of New York" creator Brandon Stanton all got the chance to meet Obama. (That's Chastanet in Obama's seat in the Oval Office.)
    "You don't do things alone," Obama told Chastanet, according to Stanton's blog. "Nobody does things alone. Everybody always needs support.
    "For a young man like you, you should never be too afraid or too shy to look for people who can encourage you or mentor you," Obama said. "There are a lot of people out there who want to provide advice and support to people who are trying to do the right thing. So you'll have a lot of people helping you. Just always remember to be open to help. Never think that you know everything. And always be ready to listen."
    It's been a wild ride for Chastanet, Lopez and their school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. It's known as a "safe zone in a crime-plagued neighborhood."
    After Vidal's post took off, Stanton launched a campaign in late January to benefit the school through a summer trip to Harvard. The goal of the trip was to broaden students' horizons and expand their idea of their potential, Stanton wrote on the campaign page.
    The fundraising campaign's rapid success speaks in part to the reach of "Humans of New York," which has a social media following of nearly 12 million on Facebook alone. It's also a testament to the ability of social media to breathe new life into a feel-good story.
    The first inspirational post featured a picture of Chastanet in a housing project in Brownsville. He describes Lopez as the most influential person in his life.
    "When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter."
    In a posting on the "Humans of New York" Facebook page, Lopez talked about the discouragement she felt before the campaign.
    "Before all of this happened for our school, I felt broken," she said. "And I think the world felt a little broken too, because a lot of bad