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I’ve been following Humans of New York, or HONY, for a while on various social media platforms. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a sort of blog born from a

by fady habib, [CC BY-2.0], via Flickr

guy who’d originally wanted to take portraits of people on the streets of New York City and plot them on a map.

Eventually, he started interviewing them, and posting the images with stories online with permission. Since its start in 2010, he’s put out a couple of books, gone on a world photography tour, and is now working with a school serving the Brownsville community to raise enough funds to send some of the kids to visit Harvard. It looks like they’ve vastly surpassed their goal, but extra money will go towards programs to help the students. If interested, you can check it out here.

For the past week or so, he’s been sharing pictures and stories of that school’s teachers.

Having grown up under the banner of being learning disabled, I’ve seen some of the uglier sides of the teaching profession, but I’ve also had the privilege of learning from some spectacular people. As an adult, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to befriend a couple of my formal teachers, as well as those I’ve never been taught by. Even without those personal ties, I’d still think teachers in general are some of the biggest heroes in today’s world.

As I read through what the teachers in Brownsville share, I find myself thinking of the complexities involved with learning. Basic ability level is a massive part of it, but there are so many factors that effect it as well, like social stresses stemming from gender, race and income level, as well as family dynamics, neighborhood violence, administrative politics, cultural values and peer pressure.

When we talk about these issues, we tend to focus on one to the exclusion of all others.

On one hand, that’s necessary, since each issue does deserve a huge amount of attention until it can be resolved. Disability, especially when it’s not physically visible, is still glossed over in a huge way, and those with different ability levels are still either shoved aside, ignored and belittled, or held up as a way to help those without any disability to feel better about their lives. Those are all reasons why it’s so important to discuss.

On the other, though, intersectionality is also vital, because the social challenges that come with being a member of any marginalized group plays into a person’s overall experience. This is especially true when it comes to childhood education. Speaking from experience, the fact I was born and identify as female has had a huge impact on my educational experience.

When it comes right down to it, we’re all people. The stigma centuries of social evolution put on us have a huge effect on how we grow, behave and are treated, but we all share the experience of being human. Somehow, that gets lost in the whole “us versus them” thing going on today.

People are marvelously complicated beings, which is why avenues like HONY are so important. They give us the chance to see what life looks like through another set of eyes without too much emphasis on labels or politics. Those little snippets of life offer insight into our humanity, and that basic seed of our nature is from where solutions grow.

As I’ve said before: Person first, label later.

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