By Richie Taddonio
Brandon Stanton said he could have spent years perfecting his idea for his blog, the Humans of New York.
Speaking to a near-capacity crowd at the University of South Florida’s Marshall Center, Stanton kept the audience enthralled, discussing his blog dedicated to photos of individuals and their poignant stories.
The blog has gained international attention since it began in 2010, one year after he came up with the idea. The line to hear Stanton speak began forming at 4:30 p.m., three and a half hours before the event started, and snaked its way out the doors and around the building.
USF student Megan Hoedt, who had been in line since 5:00 p.m., said she heard about the event through Facebook. “I’ve followed his blog for a few years now,” she said. “I’ve heard of him, but a lot of my friends haven’t.”
Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller of the same name, spoke at USF’s Lecture Series event on April 5 to share his own story and offer some advice.
Stanton pulled no punches with the audience. In his opening statement, he had a confession to make about his first experience at the University of Georgia. “I fucked up in college,” he said. “I didn’t just flunk out, I flamed out.”
But like his blog, Stanton put his experience in a positive light, explaining how enrolling in community college opened his eyes to the plight of his less-privileged classmates.
“To these kids, college wasn’t an expectation; it was a sacrifice,” Stanton said, explaining that many of the people he met there were risking their savings in hope that their education would help them get jobs and provide for their families.
This revelation put him on the road to starting Humans of New York. “I decided to restructure my life,” Stanton said. “Instead of spending time making money, I’m going to make just enough money so I can control my time.”
The young photojournalist recounted his misadventures in the early stages of the project, including a reenactment of awkward phone calls to his ex-co-workers, attempting to solicit money for the project’s start up.
With a goofy sense of humor, Stanton kept the mood light and the audience entertained. The ballroom erupted with laughter when he joked about his uncomfortable interaction with the first people he photographed.
Glad that his stories induced some laughter, he shared an uncomfortable experience in which the audience he was speaking to remained unfazed by his wisecracks, but he admitted that he loves to see how different crowds react to different things.
“One of the greatest things about Humans of New York is the audience,” he said.
During the question and answer session, one student brought up Stanton’s Facebook post to Donald Trump, followed by an eruption of applause from the audience. In his post, Stanton condemned Trump’s racist and hateful ways, and reported to Trump his own discoveries he has made on his travels.
“I am a journalist, Mr. Trump,” Stanton stated in his post. “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.”
Stanton confessed that he was very nervous about publishing his opinion, something he rarely does, but it was something he had to do. To him, learning to overcome fear is his most crucial life lesson.
The Humans of New York founder said that he could have spent years perfecting his idea for the project, partially because he wanted to ensure success, but mostly because he was afraid to take the first steps.
“We plan and we plan, but we never start,” Stanton said.
He said if he had kept planning for perfect and fearing failure, the project would have never happened.
His advice to his audience: “Just do it. Force yourself to do it when you are most afraid until you don’t fear it anymore.”
What “it” is depends on the individual, but he assured everyone that with enough determination, they could overcome any fear and achieve their goals. Stanton said he often tells himself, “If I keep getting a little bit better, and a little bit better, and a little bit better, I won’t ever be able to say I failed. There’s always a way to get better.”
Richie Taddonio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.