Building community, one story at a time

‘Humans of Hopkins’ highlights unique narratives of unlikely subjects

by Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers

In a world where people seem glued to their smart phones, a new Facebook project aims to capture the lives of people beyond a three-second Snapchat or a 140-character tweet. Following the footsteps of a New York photographer, “Humans of Hopkins” features pictures of randomly-selected Hopkins residents, showing there’s more than meets the eye as each subject brings his or her unique story to life.

The human behind Humans of Hopkins is Amy Mathews, a lifelong resident of the Hopkins-Minnetonka area and 2012 graduate of Hopkins High School.
“I think a lot of people just look at someone and make a snap judgement about them,” Mathews said. “It’s really powerful to people to share people’s stories and make people realize there’s more depth in everyone than the two-second encounter you might have with them on the street.”
Mathews recently returned to her hometown after graduating college with a degree in graphic design and advertising. She started the page after attending the “Let’s Talk about Race in Hopkins” event in May.
While there, Mathews said people she spoke to, and the personal stories she heard, inspired her to learn more about the people sharing the small community of Hopkins.
“I would love for there to be some sort of initiative for me to walk up to people and just ask them about their lives and things people might not otherwise know about,” Mathews said.
She had long been a fan of the photo series and web project “Humans of New York,” which captures a snapshot, in words and images, of random people on the street. Mathews said she was struck by how often the people featured in Humans of New York had the most surprising stories or fascinating life experiences.
“I think it’s incredible that someone is taking the time to just ask people about their lives,” Mathews said.
She wondered what stories might be hidden behind the faces of people she passed in her own daily life in the streets of Hopkins.
“It just hit me — why not do something like that for Hopkins?” Mathews said.
She said the quiet suburb would make an excellent subject for a similar project, since, in spite of its small-town, Mainstreet atmosphere, it has a surprising amount of diversity.
“People don’t know how many different cultures and backgrounds are within the city limits of Hopkins,” Mathews said. “Those of us that live here are excited about it and want to know their neighbors,”
Armed with that idea, she approached the city about the project; while staff was in favor of the project, Mathews was told that it would have more impact coming from a resident like herself rather than City Hall.
“I wasn’t expecting to be in charge, but it’s been fun,” Mathews said.
Since the Facebook page was officially shared on June 5, Humans of Hopkins has racked up more than 400 page likes and hundreds more comments and mentions on its posts.
Mathews said she was taken aback by how quickly the page took off and the number of people taking to Facebook to share their appreciate for the stories.
“We’ve gotten a great response so far,” she said. “I honestly wasn’t expected how fast it caught on. … It’s cool that people have been commenting (on the posts) to say ‘Wow, I never would have thought about that.’”
In addition to people reading and responding to the stories online, Mathews said she was shocked by how many people contacted her to get involved with the project, either by helping interview and photograph people or by sharing their own stories on the page.
“The best part has been people reaching out to us to say they love what we’re doing and want to get involved,” Mathews said.
So far, the page has shared just a handful of stories, including a married couple, a Muslim woman, a Hopkins High School alum and a young boy with Down Syndrome. Mathews said she wants the page to be as diverse as Hopkins itself, with a broad swath of life experiences, identities and opinions represented.
“I’m trying to get a lot of different outlooks and experiences to show the community that there’s a lot people don’t realize about Hopkins,” Mathews said. “The stories people have shared are really beautiful and represent how diverse the community really is.”
While the first few subjects of the Humans of Hopkins volunteered, Mathews plans to take the project to the streets and start inviting whoever she meets to participate.
Mathews’ question for people is deceptively simple: “What’s something people wouldn’t know from looking at you?”
Mathews has her own answer; her life changed when she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, an “invisible disease,” at age 12.
“There are struggles that people don’t see and don’t understand, and it’s really shaped my compassion for what other people might be going through that you don’t know about,” Mathews said. “You never know what other people have been through. There’s a lot more to a person than what you see from the outside.”
Mathews said she hopes that as people become more aware of Humans of Hopkins, people she approaches on the street will be open to sharing their own experiences for the project.
“I’m really excited to be getting this off the ground, but my main fear is that people will think we’re trying to corner them with questions,” she said.
It’s a little intimidating to stop a stranger and ask them to share their life story, Mathews said, especially if they don’t know who she is or haven’t heard of the project.
“I need to make a T-shirt or something,” she laughed.
Mathews hopes to continue updating the page with a new story once or twice each week through the summer. In addition to the project, she also works several jobs, is considering graduate school and a future career in nonprofit work, so it’s still not clear where Humans of Hopkins will go in the long term. However, Mathews emphasized that there is still important work to be done, so people can expect that page to stick around.
“I would love to just keep it going,” Mathews said. “There’s more to Hopkins than people realize and more stories to be told.”
The goal, Mathews said, is to encourage people in Hopkins and beyond to interact more with each other and think of others as whole people rather than just stereotypes.
“I hope people just go out and interact with each other and embrace their differences,” Mathews said. “Differences bring us together more than they break us apart. It’s about realizing more than just our own narrative. … There’s so many life experiences people have had that no one knows about. That’s what makes this so compelling.”
With a population of around 18,000 people, Hopkins is no New York, but Mathews said there’s an unimaginable number of amazing stories tucked away in the hearts and minds of Hopkins’ residents.
“People underestimate Hopkins because of its size, but when you really look at the people that live here, the diversity of people, cultures, everything that goes on is so great. … It’s not just a hiccup between St. Louis Park and Minnetonka,” Mathews said. “What I’m most excited about is that we’re broadening people’s understanding of who the citizens of Hopkins are and what it means to live here.”

Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]