I would much prefer for them to be whole human beings and then come into the classroom and say ‘hey, this is a safe space for me to actually think about things and be activated in my intellect’

Jose Luis Vilson grew up in the crime afflicted Lower East Side of Manhattan. Growing up, he observed that despite the drugs and violence, there was a lot of social activism in the air. It inspired him. When he attended Syracuse University, Jose naturally gravitated towards educating his peers about what it was like to be a person of color in America and discussing ideas around empowering at-risk communities.  

The computer science major found himself doubting his future career choice. He felt it was difficult to 'dive into it.' He struggled with the idea of letting it go while weighing the direction he should take after college. He decided, after much debate, to become a New York City teacher.

"Why do my students act out?" the new math teacher asked himself.  He wondered about what must be going on at home for some of his students, who happened to be students of color, that they would find the classroom to be a space where they could disrupt. His curiosity led him to dig deeper and engage his fellow educators in a wider conversation regarding race, equity and how these issues make their way into classrooms. 

Jose innately understood, that being an activist meant being compassionate. He approached his student with curiosity and began to genuinely question how he could become a better educator to these particular children. He found that if he was able to build a peer to peer relationship with a student, it was only then that he could pierce through their boundaries and activate the student within. 

Throughout this entire discovery, Jose maintained a  blog which he began in 2003. In it, he wrote about his experiences, the learnings and the tactics he was using in the classroom. He also wrote about social and political issues and how they make their way into classrooms and the role that educators play in serving these kids. In 2006, he created his website which now houses his acclaimed and controversial blog. The blog is wildly successful among educators, but it has also ruffled some feathers. The New York City Department of Education continues to block his blog on all computers while the members of the central office still read it.

As a continuation of his blog, Jose authored, This is Not a Test, is a collection of multifaceted essays. In his book, Jose provokes discussion on issues of race, gentrification, and the teaching profession from the eyes of a Black-Latino educator with a mix of research and first-hand experience. Jose is the creator and founder of #educolor, a movement which seeks to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice. The hashtag has reached 2.3 million impressions. 

Jose Luis Vilson, the activist and TED Speaker, has been featured in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal among many others. He continues to talk about racial equality and the role of the educator, nationwide. 

In this #innerview, Jose reminds us that our youthful passions and perspectives cue us into our values. Honoring those values can lead to fulfilling, life-affirming work. Had Jose followed his original path, the "prescribed path," millions of people, the ones that already have and the ones that are yet to be, would not have been touched by his work and activism.


Have an innerview into the life and work of Jose Luis Vilson.

Filmed by Ashley Priessnitz & Edited by Andrea Villamil
Music by Podington Bear

The Series: Have an #innerview into the lives of people who have steered away from conventional career and life pursuits in exchange for non-traditional, multi-dimensional pursuits.