When some people hear the name “Brownsville,” they often think of the crime, violence and gang activity that frequently plague the Brooklyn neighborhood. But Nadia Lopez, the principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, is trying to change that perception and show that greatness can truly come out of Brownsville.
“What I did not like and what I could not respect was how the media always spoke about Brownsville as if children didn’t live here and as if the residents who live here do not fight hard and didn’t have a story,” said Lopez. “Other communities’ band together to make change, other communities are represented and respected, but we’re not.”
Lopez was born and raised in Brooklyn to parents from Guatemala-Honduras. She attended public schools during her childhood and went to the College of Staten Island to study nursing. It wasn’t until graduation day that she realized nursing wasn’t her true calling. What she really wanted to be was an educator.
“I wanted to give back to children in New York City, specifically because I had phenomenal educators,” Lopez said. Her desire to give back to the community she called home led her to start her own middle school. She presented her proposal to the Department of Education in 2008, and the application was accepted two years later. In September of 2010, Mott Hall Bridges Academy opened its doors.
But opening a school had its own set of challenges, such as not having enough funds or not getting enough students enrolled. However, Lopez persevered and took time to explain her vision to the families of Brownsville, asking them to have faith in her. Now, Mott Hall Bridges Academy caters to nearly 200 students, all of whom Lopez hopes gain something meaningful during their time there.“I want my kids to know that they are significant and fierce,” said Lopez. “I always want my scholars to consider themselves agents of change, to impact someone in their community and know that they can take over this world.”
The work Lopez has been doing for her students and the Brownsville community has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. In January, Mott Hall Bridges Academy was featured on the popular blog “Humans of New York” and was able to raise more $1 million after one of Mott Hall’s scholars, a young man named Vidal Chastanet, explained to photographer Brandon Stanton that Lopez was his biggest inspiration. March 28, Lopez was honored with the “Change Agent” award at this years “Black Girls Rock!” event, which will air April 5 at 7 p.m. on BET.
But for Lopez, receiving honors is not what is most important to her, but rather making sure that people finally take notice and see the excellence that lives in Brownsville.
“It’s not really about Mott Hall Bridges,” Lopez said. “It’s about someone finally acknowledging that in Brownsville, we have significant and phenomenal young people. We are descendants of kings and queens, and we need to teach that to our children so they understand their promise and purpose in life.”