Meet The Woman Closing The Gap Between Activism & Education In The Classroom

Valencia Clay is no influencer. She's not an activist, either. She wants you to call her what she is: a teacher.
With 160K followers on Instagram and a published book under her belt, Clay isn’t looking to outgrow her role as a public school educator — even as she finds herself garnering more and more repute in the public eye for her creative, empowering work in the classroom. “I cannot be out here trying to get clout,” she tells Refinery29. “I have to teach.”
After watching the canon of outdated, educator-facing videos screened at her professional-development meetings, Clay set out to create a resource for teachers that was centered around students who looked like her students. She wanted to focus on exercises that felt pertinent to the challenges faced by the kids she worked with every day. So she began to film her lesson plans — and post them on Instagram. Along with her pupils, she built herself into a resource for other teachers.
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“What I really want to research,” she tells R29 Unbothered’s Danielle Cadet as they drive around her native neighborhood of Harlem in the all new RAV4, “is how we can intrinsically motivate children who appear to be totally unmotivated.”
As they cruise towards Clay’s first public school — the birthplace of it all — they talk state tests, students, and Clay’s first book, Soundless Cries Don’t Lead to Healing. “There shouldn’t be a gap between education and activism,” she says. “My whiteboard — that’s my picket sign. My classroom is the march.” As she sees it, real impact is often born in the humblest of places.
“We might be in a car,” Cadet jokes, as she closes out the interview. “But we are in church.”
Watch the video above to learn more about how Clay is empowering students and teachers in schools all over the country.
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