As hundreds of social media networks popping up across the Internet, it has evolved to cater to people’s needs and desires.

Some could argue it’s about incessantly stalking your friends (and the occasional stranger) through posts, photos and videos. For others it is about sharing media – connecting through musical interests or snippets of special moments. For Humans of New York, lovingly referred to as HONY by fans and followers, it has become a way to connect people through images of strangers around the Big Apple.


The man behind the camera, Brandon Stanton, began wandering around the city snapping photos after losing his job trading bonds in financial markets. With a passion for New York City, Brandon began capturing and cataloging the faces and unique stories of people he passed on the sidewalk. Since its inception in the summer of 2010, Humans of New York has captured nearly 5,000 portraits, appeared in countless publications, battled a lawsuit, and captivated nearly 1 million followers from around the world on Facebook.

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Each of HONY’s portraits provide a quick glimpse into the life of the unique passerby he meets while strolling through New York. His photos and stories profile people from all walks of life: the high-profile banker who hates capitalism, the Vietnam veteran still scarred by his war-torn memories, and the optimists who made an adventure canoeing through the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy. Brandon even took his camera to Iran to capture a vibrant population among a repressive government. From vibrant cross dressers to faces weathered by tragedy, HONY’s photos embody the celebration and strife its followers have felt through some moment in their lives and others some never wish to encounter.

Rumi’s Wild West Adventure


One little stranger in particular captured Brandon’s attention as he walked through Washington Square Park. Brandon’s photo captures Rumi, a boy with wire-framed glasses and a collection of cowboy hats and plastic ponies sprawled on a blanket before him. Rumi always dreamed of owning a horse and was selling his cowboy memorabilia to save up for one of his own. Though Rumi only made $1 that day, he was determined to have a pony of his own.

Brandon quickly learned that having a horse was nearly impossible in a busy city. That day, Brandon reached out to his community and asked his followers to help send Rumi on a Wild West adventure with his family. For $7,000, Brandon proposed that they could send Rumi on a “ horse-filled, whip cracking, high-falootin’, Wild West adventure” at the Drowsy Water Ranch. He asked that his friends at HONY toss a few coins in the cowboy hat to make Rumi’s dream a reality.

To say that people chipped in would be a major understatement. Support poured in on HONY’s Wild West Fundraiser page on Indiegogo, as they raised the necessary funds in 15 minutes once the page was established. Since then, HONY supporters have continued to donate to Rumi’s cowboy adventure, collecting nearly $30,000 in less than 48 hours. People sent in half of their paychecks to support little Rumi’s dreams, suggested places for him to get riding lessons or become a caretaker for horses in the area. Others, like Kelly Berman Skaller, praised his mother on the post for standing by Rumi’s side and supporting her son for what once seemed like an impossible dream.

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Social Communities and The Power to Do Good

So, why did so many people reach out to help a little boy achieve his dream? Maybe it’s the determination behind those wire-rimmed glasses and the smile of his adoring mother sharing the curb with him. Perhaps it’s the dream, one that we all dreamed at one time, of becoming a cowboy or a ballerina.  It could be the desire to change the idea of impossible into reality – taking Rumi under the wing of thousands of dreamers and doers and helpers to make this child the exception.


Whatever the motivation, HONY and Rumi’s story show that social media has the power to do more. These digital connections forge personal bonds with friends, and in the case of HONY, strangers walking along a city street. The stories that jump off the screen with each portrait unite a community of people from different backgrounds to not only share their own stories, but to change the plotline of one that is just beginning to develop.

The HONY community and others across the Internet help us raise awareness, collect money, share memories, and recall the stories we love to share and sometimes bury in the back of our minds. Social media’s ability to do good is more than about making change – it’s about highlighting those habits and events that make us both individuals and part of something bigger: members of the living and breathing human race.


 Share your thoughts on HONY and other social good projects in the comments below.