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 its her eighth grade students Ms. 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 below video from September, Clay, who’s been teaching for 10 years, breaks down why the term “black-on-black” crime is inherently racist.
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The term "black on black crime" implies that people of color are "inherently violent" … as if crime against our own people is "unique" to our culture. That's a lie. It doesn't matter what subject you teach or even if you don't teach at all: we have a collective responsibility to destroy the byproducts of systematic racism; the language and labels we currently accept and allow must be addressed and debunked.
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.
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Baltimore has had 291 homicides so far this year, 28 in the last month and today just so happens to be the 27th day of the month, so you do the math! . . 96 of the homicide victims were under the age of 25!!! 82/96 of them were black males!!! How can this happen? How can this be? America is allowing us to be at war because the economy eats off of our demise. . . Playful black boys get kicked out of their classes everyday, all day, and as a result, they grow farther and farther from learning the truth about their struggle and how to destroy it. Far too many schools are preparing them for the prison system and not entrepreneurship or engineering or educating other young black men. . . Our black boys don't need to be in the hallway or in the dean's office, they need to be in class, with their teachers, learning about who they are! . . I can admit, it's hard to deal with their high energy when you're trying to teach a lesson but imagine how much harder it will be for them if they leave your class without getting it? Keep them in class and have patience with them. . . The fact that he does not know who Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray are really goes to show why we need to teach our youth that #blacklivesmatter ! And not just in February. We have to be revolutionary, not reactionary. How else will the youth of today lead us tomorrow?
The videos are just two of countless IG videos recorded by Clay’s students and interns that’s 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.