Valencia D. Clay: A Baltimore teacher's mission to educate and inspire students

“My work is a vessel for empowerment."
Illustration of Valencia Clay.
Adriana Bellet / for NBC News

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By Melissa Noel

"She Thrives: Black Women Making History Today" puts the spotlight on 10 amazing individuals whose achievements transcend generations, occupations and regions. These women — all leaders in their communities — are truly elevating the conversation around black identity, politics and culture. Meet all of our "She Thrives" honorees here.

Name

Valencia D. Clay

Title

Teacher, Baltimore Design School

Hometown

Harlem, N.Y. Lives in Baltimore

Words you live by

"One day at a time."

Your hero

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How she thrives

“My work is a vessel for empowerment.” That’s the way Baltimore teacher Valencia D. Clay emphatically describes her passion as an educator. Clay, who has become a viral social media star for her bold and inspirational teaching style, pushes her students to think critically, be culturally conscious, and have confidence in their abilities.

“I think the most rewarding part about being an educator is that your work is very reciprocal,” she told NBCBLK. “So, as I teach my students, I’m continuously learning. As they grow, I grow and this is on a daily basis.”

The Harlem native, who has taught in public schools for the past 10 years, is committed to expanding opportunities for students and educators in urban school districts. Her eighth grade humanities students at the Baltimore Design School are taught lessons about life, self-love and the black diaspora.

“I view my life as a mirror to their own,” she said. “I use my life experience as a way to show them that there is absolutely nothing that they are incapable of achieving, no matter what obstacle they are faced with.”

Clay commands respect in the classroom and captivates thousands of people who follow her on social media. She’s candid and transparent about her own personal challenges, including dealing with depression.

Clay is also an author and co-founder of The Flourishing Blossoms Society for Girls Inc., a support network for young girls from urban areas, with a mission to mentor and provide service opportunities. She recently led a delegation of young women on a service learning trip to the Dominican Republic, and has been named a 2019 National Geographic Education Fellow. It’s an opportunity that she describes as “the biggest news of her life.”

Throughout the year, Clay will focus on bringing National Geographic resources and experience programs to her students in Baltimore and other urban school districts throughout the country.

“To allow our children to be exposed to explorers will allow them to dream bigger of those kinds of opportunities,” she said. “If you get to let your passion be your job, then you’ve got it made.”