Growing up in Anne Arundel County, Ashley Williams said she experienced microaggressions — intentional or unintentional insensitive comments to people based on their race or gender. Students would say she was familiar with government assistance because she is Black. Williams, whose family at the time was not receiving government assistance, said she also felt lonely because she was one of three Black students in her Advanced Placement Spanish, U.S. History and Calculus classes.
Her childhood experience – in part – propelled her to teach herself about emotional intelligence as well as to become an instructor at Awake Yoga Meditation in Coldspring. She also wrote the emotional intelligence and mindfulness curriculum as director of climate and culture at Southwest Baltimore Charter School in New Southwest/Mt. Clare. Four years ago, she launched an emotional wellness software for children K-12 named Clymb, formerly Infinite Schools, that offers different methods for children to cope with stress, including breathing exercises, ways of moving and mindfulness.
“What I love about the software is how intuitive it is. I love how efficient it is in delivering a scientific method of improving emotional intelligence,” she said referring to insights from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, an organization that promotes social emotional learning in schools, used in the software.
The software is sold to organizations, not individuals, like nonprofits and schools. The price depends on the number of children that the organization serves, she said, declining to be more specific.
“We monitor emotional intelligence over time over all the organizations that utilize our platform in real time,” Williams said. “We’re able to see the change and transformation of engaging with emotional resources for young people.”
Valencia Clay-Bell, a former middle school English teacher for Southwest Baltimore Charter School, said she wished she had access to a similar software when she attended school as a child. When she was a teacher, she said her students told her the meditation techniques were helpful, she said, adding that depending on the type of stress, it can cause learning difficulties.
Diamonté Brown, president of Baltimore Teachers’ Union, which represents city schools staff, said she likes that the software is age-appropriate.
The software is in use at nine Baltimore Public School sites, including Southwest Baltimore Charter School and Living Classrooms Foundation. Also, Clymb is working on a study in partnership with the American Heart Association to learn about the impact that an emotional health software can have in a community.
“[The software is focused] on social, emotional learning versus academics. I like that students can do it without the teachers’ help,” Brown said. “I like that it’s short lessons – I like that it actually allows the students to actually practice whatever skill is being taught, not just learn the skill in theory.”
Williams, 35, of Gwynn Oak in West Baltimore, attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She grew up in Millersville, and graduated from Old Mill Senior High School. She landed her first education job as an educator for Southwest Baltimore Charter School in 2006, according to her LinkedIn profile, and left the school as director of climate and culture in 2017.
As CEO and founder of Clymb, she said it was not easy in the beginning, but she didn’t give up and took advantage of both the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab and the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship & Innovations Works, which taught her how to build a successful business and raise capital, among other things.
Her accolades include winning the Baltimore Elevation Award, getting recognized by the state as one of the innovative business to learn about during Black History Month, rocking the list of technology news outlet Technical.ly’s as No. 8 of 20 top most promising tech companies in Baltimore, and others.
But the work does not stop here.
In March, she will launch the Prioritize Emotional Health Petition to raise awareness and dedicate funding from congress for mental and emotional wellness.
“The idea is that we want to amplify this conversation around the use of emotional wellness for young people,” she said. Right now, young people are experiencing depression and anxiety at an astonishing rate. The mental health crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.