Teachers of color can have an inexplicably powerful influence on Black and brown students. Baltimore-based educator Valencia D. Clay is one of a number of Black teachers carrying on the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Students of the Baltimore Design School teacher aren’t just learning to expand their vocabulary and enrich their reading background in her classroom. They’re learning to take pride in their culture and, consequently, themselves. The literacy teacher regularly gives impromptu lessons centered on social consciousness, self-love and the use of language as a tool of racial oppression.
While it’s her eighth-grade students Clay’s lectures are directed toward, the more than 128,000 people who follow her on Instagram have realized they, too, can stand to learn a thing or two from the Morgan State University graduate.
In the video below from September, Clay, who’s been teaching for 10 years, breaks down why the term “Black-on-Black” crime is inherently racist.
And when students are misbehaving, she’ll get her point across while turning it into a teachable moment about the predatory nature of the criminal justice system.
The videos are only two of countless IG videos recorded by Clay’s students and interns that have caught the eyes of hundreds of thousands.
Clay could look at the hundreds of comments on these videos hailing her wokeness to assess her influence on others. But those aren’t what she cites when sharing the moment she realized she was uplifting those around her.
On the first day of school in Clay’s native Harlem, a student in her predominantly African class wrote an offensive statement about Africans during a class game called “Telephone.”
“Somebody wrote ‘all Africans stink.’ I was so confused and angry with them for their self-hatred,” she told EBONY on Monday.
By this point, Clay was accustomed to awakening her students to the detrimental effects of colonialism. At this particular school, she’d realized she’d have to teach the children to unlearn colorism.
So she turned to the works of Sista Souljah, Assata Shakur and documentaries informing on Africa’s rich history. When she heard them echo these teachings with discussions of how the continent was the birthplace of civilization, she realized she’d been effective in beginning to undo their toxic beliefs.
“By the end, we were all teaching each other about culture,” she said.
But Clay doesn’t want to be the one to teach her students everything they know. She just wants them to keep reading. Her mantra is “reading is activism.”
“[Martin Luther King] was a man who taught the way to be liberated is to be educated,” she said.
Now, while we all wish we had an instructor as unapologetically Black and intent on making us woke before we even had braces, Clay isn’t the only teacher intent on breeding young kings and queens—and she insists everyone who is singing her praises knows it.
“It’s important that we celebrate the community for being exceptional in all the ways we are. That’s one thing Martin Luther King taught was to focus on the positivity and what comes easy,” she continued.
“He stands on love and everything I do is based on love,” Clay said of the late icon.