Quantcast

How Valencia Clay Is Redefining What It Means To Be An Educator

Educator Valencia Clay has a long history of teaching Woke 101.

Human Interest

I remember the exact day I saw the video.

I also remember how I felt as I watched as a young black girl revealing to her classmates that she didn't think she was pretty because she was always looked at as the "ugly black girl". What moved me even more though, was the way her teacher took on the role of nurturer as she instructed each of her students one by one to give compliments to the young girl. Black girl, in case you needed to be reminded, you are worth your weight in gold.

The video capturing those moments went viral and reached the hearts of many, including Orange Is The New Black actress Danielle Brooks, who responded to the student with an emotional video, telling the story of her own struggles with self-worth.

The teacher in that video, Valencia Clay, is a prime example of the caliber of educators we need in our classrooms at this time.

The 30-year-old Baltimore City 8th grade teacher with three degrees is a woke aficionado known inside of the classroom and outside of the classroom for her use of hip hop lyrics in her lessons, as well as making rap beefs like Remy Ma's “ShETHER" against Nicki Minaj's “Make Love" a teachable moment. She puts a spin on hot topics relevant in magazines, the news, and TV shows. And she teaches this way because she knows that the key to tapping into the youth's ability to learn is by first and foremost, piquing their interest.

But back in 2015, the young teacher was just like the rest of us, reeling from a different kind of impact. With the massively publicized police murders, the rise of Black Lives Matter movement, and the police death of Baltimore City's own Freddie Gray, Valencia was hurting.

The whole city of Baltimore was hurting.

“Our kids knew Freddie Gray," she said. “He was like their older brother."

And that's where her mission as an educator started to take shape. Valencia knew it was important for the students of Baltimore Freedom Academy to process what was happening. Shortly after, her school's administration asked her to create a lesson plan that would help teachers communicate what was happening with students. They chose the right woman for the job.

Valencia already had a long history at the school for teaching Woke 101.

She showed her class movies like Do the Right Thing and dove into topics of colorism, segregation, and the African diaspora. When her lesson plan called for the students to read a book on Brown vs. Board of Education, Valencia went ahead and served up the full picture for them. “I taught everything before and after Brown vs. Board," she recalled. “I didn't get as much support from my administration when that book came out because the kids were talking about their own school."

The death of Freddie Gray acted as a turning point for Valencia and it was evident in the way her students were able to work through the events surrounding them. They were more than woke, they were awake, and the administration had to take notice. But despite her mission being clearer than ever before, she wasn't so willingly supported in her journey.

That feeling of a lack of support coupled with accusations of teaching too much “black stuff" from a student's parents, Valencia admitted that she momentarily stumbled after that and pulled back from her mission and the message of her woke lesson plan. “That was me feeling insecure and feeling like I need to prove myself as a woman who is intellectually able to do anything," she said. “I was losing myself, and I was losing my kids. I went back to my lessons the way I was doing them and the kids started growing again."

“I was accused of creating angry black children. I'm like, 'Yeah, they probably are angry because they're awakening,'" she says.

"And that's the first step when you wake up, is to feel. But we're going to move beyond that, we're going to move to acceptance."

The solution for moving towards acceptance in Valencia's classroom was to empower black students with the truth that the system would otherwise leave behind. But teaching black history in today's classrooms hasn't been easy. Locked into what she calls a “scripted curriculum", Valencia had to navigate the requirements of standardized testing.

But she found creative ways to push the envelope.

As much as her administration has fought against her 8th grade teaching methods, Valencia says the proof is in the pudding. “The results come in many different nuances. Whether it's the children not being suspended as many times, or whether it's a poetry slam event that's packed and every kid is standing on tables, spitting hot fire with big words that you didn't even know they would know."

Back in a 2016 interview with The Phil Taitt Show, Valencia went in-depth with how she learned that love was the true key to reaching her students in a meaningful way and becoming the teacher she was supposed to be:

“I don't even know what I expected as a teacher. I knew that kids needed love. I knew that I was going to be in the hood. I started teaching in Baltimore - that's what I did for seven years. So I knew what I was getting myself into, especially being from an urban area, being from a disenfranchised community, growing up without my mom and my dad. I knew what I was going to see. I knew what I'd gone through, but I didn't know that love was the key until I started to find out on my own for myself. Once I was able to see that in myself, I was able to go back to my students and love them differently than I had ever loved them before."

Today, Valencia stays focused on her purpose. Outside of the classroom, she has established The Flourishing Blossoms Society for Girls, a worldwide mentorship organization that supports the success of underrepresented girls. She's also a teacher's teacher, aiding educators on methods for teaching children of color core reading skills that will help them hold their own when it's time to talk about how to build a revolution.

That is how you empower little black and brown boys and girls. And that is how you save lives and change the world.

For more about Valencia Clay and her multifaceted community work, visit her website and follow her on Instagram.

Originally published on December 9, 2017

Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Featured image by Getty Images

TW: This article may contain mentions of suicide and self-harm.

In early 2022, the world felt like it slowed down a bit as people digested the shocking news of beauty pageant queen Cheslie Kryst, who died by suicide. When you scroll through her Instagram, the photos she had posted only weeks before her death were images of her smiling, looking happy, and being carefree. You can see photos of her working, being in front of the camera, and doing what I imagine was her norm. These pictures and videos, however, began to spark a conversation among Black women who knew too well that feeling like you're carrying the world on your shoulders and forcing yourself to smile through it all to hide the pain.

Keep reading...Show less

Ironically enough—considering the way the word begins—the love-hate relationship that we have with menstruation is comparable to the way in which we navigate the world of men. It’s very much “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” vibes when it comes to women and their cycles. But the older I get, the more I learn to hate that time of the month a little less. A lot of my learning to embrace my period has come with learning the fun, interesting, and “witchy” stuff while discovering more natural, in-tune ways of minimizing the pain in my ass (those cramps know no bounds) amongst other places.

Keep reading...Show less

SZA is no stranger to discussing her mental health struggles and her experiences with anxiety. In 2021, the “Good Days” singer tweeted about having “debilitating anxiety” that causes her to shield away from the public. Unfortunately, she still has those same struggles today and opened up about it during Community Voices 100th episode for Mental Health Awareness Month. While SZA enjoys making music, she’s not a fan of the spotlight, which may be surprising to many.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews
Latest Posts