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Inspiring joy in reading

Dr. Artika Tyner fights America’s literacy crisis, one book at a time.

Dr. Artika Tyner, of St. Paul, Minnesota, helps children get access to books through her Leaders are Readers program.
Caitlin Abrams

Dr. Artika Tyner isn’t one to simply talk about change. The civil rights attorney, law professor and author prefers to take action. And that’s how the program Leaders are Readers was born—during a conversation with friends in her St. Paul, Minnesota, living room.

“In America, we currently have a reading crisis,” says Tyner, a Thrivent client. “When one in four American children are not reading at grade level by fourth grade, we know that they’re four times more likely to drop out of school and three and a half times more likely to be arrested during their lifetime.”

Through Leaders are Readers, young people are inspired to find joy in reading. The program brings diverse authors into schools and community centers and provides books for children to keep.

“I want to make sure that every young person leaves with their own book, because 61% of low-income families don’t own one book,” she says. “Reading a book opens up your outlook on life, opens up your perspective and helps you create this whole new dimension of creativity and innovation.”

This work ties in with Tyner’s nonprofit Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, which works to inspire ordinary people to have an extraordinary impact in their community. “So many of the community members we were working with wanted to impact education and criminal justice,” she says.

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Legacy | Dr. Tyner’s Story | Follow Your Heart with Thrivent

She also started Planting People Growing Justice Press and Bookstore, with a mission to increase diversity in children’s books. Tyner has written 35 books with the goal in mind of activating change across generations. While four are leadership books for adults, she focuses on children’s books ranging from fiction to nonfiction.

“We oftentimes hear the statement that you cannot be what you cannot see,” she says. “But the reality is that when I was growing up, I didn’t see books that reflected me. So that was my inspiration—to see myself on pages of books.”

Tyner’s books are written with a broad audience in mind.

“We make sure with diverse books that we do two things. We help to create mirrors so young people of color see a positive representation of themselves in the pages of books. We also help to create those windows for all children to learn across and within cultures.”

Since its start in 2017, more than 20,000 books have been donated as part of Leaders are Readers. Tyner, as well as other Thrivent clients, have led Thrivent Action Teams to host events in local communities across the country to lessen the reading crisis and literacy disparities.

“We have reached more than 5,000 students with our school visits and 30,000 students with our virtual read alouds,” she says. “It wouldn’t be possible without the support of Thrivent and the ‘live generously’ spirit. Instead of just pointing out the challenges in the world, we can change them.”

The client’s experience may or may not be the same as other clients and does not indicate future performance or success.

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