Brightbeam’s List of the Top 22 Education Influencers of 2022

Dec 19, 2022 5:22:27 PM

by Lisa Hollenbach


From national news to social media, from midterm elections to local school board meetings, education continues to be a hot topic across the nation this year. And what a year it's been! We’ve seen book bans and visions of bonfires, educational gag orders, a backlash to curricula that teach truth in history, and teachers being reprimanded, harassed, fired, and even run straight out of town. We've tangoed with Moms for Liberty in communities from sea to misinformed sea. 

Every year we learn a little more about how we can move the needle. One thing we know for sure is that we need passionate activists and accomplices out there doing the real work. We need people with the knowledge and the passion for cutting through the noise and lifting their voices about the issues that really matter. We need people with a fire to fight for what's right so all kids can learn and thrive. And, as 2022 comes to a close, we think these folks deserve a little recognition for the incredible work they are doing. 

Without further ado, here's brightbeam's list of the top education influencers of 2022:

1. Dr. Greg Carr 


Dr. Greg Carr is the definition of no holds barred, iykyk. From education to politics to Black liberation, Dr. Carr is going to say what you need to hear … even if you weren’t trying to hear it. I mean, watch him blow up the idea that Brown v. Board was a victory. 



You can catch him every month on Building the Black Educator Pipeline, hosted by Shayna Terrell from The Center for Black Educator Development. 

2. Kwame Sarfo-Mensah 


As students, math was a real struggle for many of us. And when it came to things like geometry or calculus, math could feel far too abstract to connect to our everyday lives. Host of Radical Math Talk, Kwame Sarfo-Menah sets the record straight about math: he makes it real, relevant and fun. Just watch his son work! 


And we all know that equity — or the lack thereof — is a critical determinant of how much kids achieve in math or any subject. That’s why Kwame is also a powerful voice for anti-bias/anti-racist, culturally relevant, and identity-affirming education. Follow Kwame’s work on Instagram and on Ed Post!

3. Conor Williams 

For smart sociopolitical commentary, Conor Williams is your guy! He writes at the intersection of education, politics, and what’s relevant. He’s spent a lot of time these past two years reminding us about the pandemic and its cost, our failing democracy and what all this means for public schools. Follow Conor on Twitter — you’ll be glad you did!


4. Laura Waters 

A shameless plug for our former long-term colleague Laura Waters, who said goodbye to brightbeam earlier this year to serve as managing editor of NJ Ed Report. If you ever need to know anything about Jersey and its schools, she’s your best bet. Before she started her new adventure, Laura took a deep dive into Camden’s incredible recovery from economic despair and educational blight and the work that remains ahead post-pandemic.

 5. Charles Cole 

Charles Cole is not here for the academic jargon, the fluff, the fancy words or the degrees (even though he has plenty of them). So what’s he here for? The parents — Black parents, to be even more specific. He dedicates his time to producing content that empowers Black parents to be agents in the educational system and to activate the power of their self-determination. Check out his new e-book, “The Agentic Black Parent.”

6. Max Freedman


Max Freedman is a reporter, producer and co-host of the wildly popular podcast School Colors. His career beyond journalism has included facilitating with Theatre of the Oppressed NYC and serving as adjunct faculty at Pratt Institute. As a senior educator with the New York Historical Society, he created an enrichment program that used musicals to teach American history to students in grades 4-8. 

We got the chance to talk to Max as part of our limited series, Across Colors, which was inspired by the “School Colors” podcast. 


7. Mark Winston Griffith 


Mark Winston Griffith is the creator of Brooklyn Deep, a citizen journalism initiative that chronicles neighborhood change in Central Brooklyn. He also co-founded the Brooklyn Movement Center, a Black-led community organizing group. From his work as a parent organizer in School District 16, he co-created “School Colors” with Max Freedman. 

 8. Courtney Martin 

Author and speaker Courtney Martin is here for listening, learning and sharing the mic with others, especially women of color. She's also here to encourage more white mothers to walk their progressive talk by becoming part of integrated school communities. She recently wrote an essay on apartheid in U.S. schools in our project, "Jane Crow: Then and Now." Read more of her thoughts at her Substack newsletter, "The Examined Life."

9. Kareem Weaver 

Everyone deserves to have the opportunity to learn to read. Isn’t that just basic? Sadly not … which is why our country needs people like Kareem Weaver. A self-described Oakland NAACP foot soldier, Kareem is 10 toes down on the right to read. In between firing off straight jewels on Twitter, he runs a whole organization, FULCRUM. Keep an eye out for him this spring in the new movie, Right to Read!


 10. Emily Hanford 

Emily Hanford has been following the science of reading for years as a senior correspondent for American Public Media. Her latest project has been a limited podcast series called Sold a Story, where she digs in on how teaching kids how to read went horribly wrong. We had the chance to go behind the scenes on our podcast, Ed Post Conversations. Check it out!



 11. Adrienne Quinn Martin 


Adrienne Quinn Martin is the Democratic Chair in Hood County, Texas. She’s also a fierce accomplice and activist for social justice who recently went viral for speaking out against religious extremists at a Granbury ISD school board meeting. You can see more from Adrienne on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram — and across all Ed Post social platforms. And while you have some downtime over the winter break, be sure to catch Adrienne on HBO’s “We’re Here.” 

12. Françoise Thenoux

Françoise Thenoux is an anti-bias/anti-racist educator, decolonial scholar and educational activist. She is a racialized immigrant who has spoken about the struggles and complexities of identity at the Race Institute and the Barnes Foundation. Françoise has over 20 years of experience in the education field. She has taught in multiple scenarios: from ESL, English immersion to Spanish or English as a second language in both elementary and secondary levels. She is aware of the challenges that educators and students face in day-to-day school life, and she is passionate about meeting diverse needs and engaging in meaningful dialogue. She's currently working as a speaker, an author, a resource creator, a facilitator of learning experiences for teachers, and a consultant. She shares her advocacy, tips, best practices and resources through social media as “The Woke Spanish Teacher,” as well as through consulting and speaking engagements. Check her out here — and on Instagram and Twitter.

13. Nicholas Ferroni 

Nicholas Ferroni is a high school teacher and nationally recognized social activist who educates, mentors and inspires students to reach their goals while driving a national dialogue about education reform. Nick's advocacy has been recognized by many organizations, including the American Conference on Diversity, The Foundation on Gender Equality and the United Nations' Women's Division. In 2016, Human Rights Campaign named Nick "Upstander of the Year" for his outspoken support of LGBTQ youth. Nicholas is a committed advocate. His strong expertise, innovative teaching style, and his ability to spark important conversations about the educational system make him someone you want to watch! Follow his work on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. 

14. Elizabeth McRae


Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s work centers on race, politics and education in the postwar United States. She is the Creighton Sossoman Professor of History at Western Carolina University where she also co-directs the Appalachian Oral History Project. In 2019, Elizabeth won the Organization of American Historian's Frederick Jackson Turner award for her book, Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. This deeply-researched book examines white women's work to maintain white supremacy in public education as well as in broader matters of policy and politics, in the South and across the nation. It also inspired our new multimedia microsite: “Jane Crow: Then and Now.”

Listen to Elizabeth break down the history of these mothers and how they laid the foundation for the new Jane Crow. 

15. Emma Bloomberg 

Emma Bloomberg is the founder and CEO of Murmuration, an organization that advises and supports community-based organizations across the country in their efforts to plan and execute successful, data-driven community organizing, advocacy and electoral campaigns.

This spring, Murmuration partnered with the Walton Family Foundation on a comprehensive study of Generation Z attitudes. They discovered that while we spend a ton of time talking about Gen Z, we don’t spend nearly enough time talking to them. Check out the report!

16. Tim Daly 

As CEO of Ed Navigator, Tim Daly and his team empower families with access to high-quality, on-demand support and guidance to give their children an excellent education. Check out this parent guide they created this summer! 

17. Taylor Lyons

Taylor Lyons is the co-founder and Community Outreach Director for Moms for Social Justice. Taylor started the parents' activist group Moms for Social Justice in her living room with three other mothers in response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then, this grassroots parent organization has grown into a national movement with more than 3,000 local members and five chapters across the country. 

18. Afrika Afeni Mills

Afrika Afeni Mills is an Education Consultant, Adjunct Instructor and longtime contributor to Ed Post. This year Afrika adds “author” to her list of accomplishments, with the publication of “Open Windows, Open Minds: Developing Antiracist, Pro-Human Students” with Corwin Press. She works with colleagues, teachers, coaches and administrators to transform instructional practices. Afrika has been featured on podcasts, blogs, delivered keynote addresses and facilitated sessions at conferences both virtually and across the United States. Follow Afrika's work on Twitter — and keep an eye out for her TED Talk in 2023! 

19. Christopher Emdin

Dr. Christopher Emdin is an educator, a truth teller, speaker and the author of several incredible books, including “Ratchetdemic: Reimagining Academic Success” and “Stem, Steam, Make, Dream: Reimagining the Culture of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” He’s also behind the magic that is #HipHopEd and #ScienceGenius. Catch up with Dr. Emdin on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Watch Dr. Emdin discuss ​​why 'Ratchetdemics' can be revolutionary for the youth on.




20. Ernest Crim III

Ernest Crim III is a native of the southside of Chicago and a speaker, cultural consultant, sociopolitical commentator, author, self-proclaimed Black History advocate and educator. He’s been lighting up our FYPs on TikTok and Instagram this year with engaging and inspiring Black History lessons, field trips and critical current events commentary — all the while side-stepping obstacles like educational gag orders and racist school board policies. He’s taking Black History directly to the people — and we are here for it! 

21. Sharif El-Mekki

Raised by members of the Black Panther Party, Sharif El-Mekki has dedicated his life to liberatory education for Black children and youth. Under his leadership as principal, Mastery Charter Shoemaker in Philadelphia won national recognition for three years running as one of the nation's leading schools in accelerating student achievement levels. He's now on a mission to rebuild the Black Teacher Pipeline. In 2014, El-Mekki founded The Fellowship — Black Male Educators for Social Justice, which recruits, develops and retains Black male educators. In 2019, he launched the Center for Black Educator Development. Get schooled from this towering figure by reading his blog, Philly's 7th Ward, or listening to the 8 Black Hands podcast. You can also follow El-Mekki on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

22. Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith is the woman behind @blackhomeeducators on Instagram. We’ve been following along as Pamela offers advice and provides tips and resources to empower families to reach educational excellence through homeschooling … and more. Check her out and follow along in 2023!


Who would you add to our list of education influencers in 2022? Let us know so we can give them their flowers! 💐



Lisa Hollenbach

Lisa Hollenbach is Senior Digital Manager for Education Post. Prior to joining Education Post, Lisa developed digital and content strategy for Teaching Channel. She served on the Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Advisory Council from 2014-2017 and was active in the planning and execution of several Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) convenings at both the regional and national level. Lisa attended both private and public schools in Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University and holds a bachelor’s in secondary education social studies, a bachelor’s in public policy, a minor in women's studies and a master’s in community psychology and social change. A former educator, Lisa taught for more than 15 years in both traditional public school and public charter school settings. She also served as a leader of her local and regional teachers association from 2001-2016. Lisa has worked with several universities throughout her career and is currently an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania State University, teaching courses in sociology, psychology, education and their intersections. She is passionate about helping education advocates share their stories and creating an equitable education system that serves all students.

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