‘Readers are Leaders’

Dr. Artika Tyner, 2021
Dr. Artika Tyner (ThreeSixty Journalism/Ivan Rahouski)

As a student at Hamline University, Dr. Artika Tyner was determined to be a high school English teacher.  

“I think for me the biggest inspiration was related to literacy,” Tyner said. “Even when I was doing student teaching, seeing that the basic phonics and some of the building blocks of reading were missing for far too many children.” 

Ultimately Tyner became an attorney and a clinical professor. Now she’s the director for the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice at the University of St. Thomas. In 2014 she founded Planting People Growing Justice. 

“Planting People Growing Justice is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting literacy and diversity in books with an ultimate goal of inspiring leadership and social change,” Tyner said. 

The organization publishes and distributes books from authors of color to teach the importance of social change through education, training and community outreach. The hope is that kids will be more interested in reading when they see themselves in the story.  

Tyner’s goal for Planting People Growing Justice is to continue to get books into children’s hands. To date, Planting People Growing Justice has donated 7,000 books to schools, and Tyner hopes they can get books into every school and inspire students to be leaders. 

One of the first stories published by Planting People Growing Justice was Tyner’s own book “Justice Makes a Difference.” The story is about Justice, a young girl who, through her love of books and conversations with her grandma, learns about important men and women who changed the world, like Ella Baker and Ida B. Wells. Tyner was inspired to write the book because in her childhood there were few stories written from the perspective of African American children. 

“The win would be seeing the ‘Justice’ books in all schools and libraries, to see Justice as a household name,” Tyner said. “When you see the red cape, you know that you can soar to new heights and you can be impactful.”  

Tyner also hopes “Justice Makes a Difference” will lead to readers exploring their cultural roots, as she did during trips to Ghana. Her first trip to Ghana was in 2019, when Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo sent an invite to the world in a United Nations address. The year 2019 marked the “Year of Return,” the 400-year anniversary of the first Africans being taken to America and becoming slaves. Akufo-Addo hoped the invitation would allow people to “honor humanities” and “reclaim (their) history.”  

In Ghana, Tyner got a rich experience of cultural legacy and identity, which inspires her work. She believes reading inspires children to be involved in their communities and recognize their roots. 

“If we study our history, it takes people to get involved to create infinite possibilities,” Tyner said. 

Tyner takes pride in an email she received from a parent who bought “Justice Makes a Difference” for their child. The child told her father, “Daddy, that’s me,” when she read it. That’s exactly the impact Tyner hopes to have with “Justice Makes a Difference” and Planting People Growing Justice. 

Tyner added, “I wrote ‘Justice’ for every Black girl, Black boy, every child of color, to have that mirror to see themselves more clearly.”

These reports were created by ThreeSixty Journalism’s summer 2021 News Reporter Academy high school students in partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center