Bringing Light into the World: Interview with Artika R. Tyner

Artika Tyner photo

By Beks Freeman

Artika R. Tyner (ΦBK, Hamline University) is a public speaker, activist, civil rights attorney, and a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tyner is also the founder and CEO of Planting People Growing Justice Press and Bookstore and the founder of its sister company Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute

Founded by Tyner in 2017, PPGJ Press and Bookstore is a Black woman-owned children’s book publisher “that seeks to increase diversity in books and promote youth leadership development,” their website explains. They provide children in need with access to books that explore history, art, culture, science, geography, and more across the African Diaspora, supporting children’s literacy and leadership, as well as their social and emotional intelligence skills.

The PPGJ Leadership Institute, also founded by Tyner, focuses on a similar mission, to nurture social change through education and community outreach. The Impact page of their website shows outstanding drive in the organization’s short six-year history. Among other milestones, PPGJLI donated more than 1,000 copies of their book, Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire, during their Leaders are Readers campaign and partnered with local retailers to donate more than 18,000 children’s books and cases of school supplies. Every milestone for the Institute underscores their dedication to providing educational access and support for children in need, allowing children to see themselves succeed in school and life. And they are determined to continue growing their impact (Click here for their 2021 Annual Report for more).

PPGJLI has earned a number of prestigious awards for their work, including the Social Justice Leadership Award (3M Open & Greater Twin Cities United Way), the Anthem Award Winner In Education, Art & Culture For Best Local Community Engagement, and a Certificate of Recognition from the Office of the Governor (Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, State of Minnesota).

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal celebrated Artika Tyner as one of their 200 Black leaders in the Twin Cities region this February.


What inspired you to start Planting People Growing Justice?

TYNER: It was personal and important to me because as a civil rights attorney, many of my clients learned how to read in prison. This is unacceptable but somehow we created a RULE OF 4:

1 in 4 American children are not reading at grade level by 4th grade.

If you are not reading at grade level by 4th grade, you are 4 times more likely to drop out of school.

And here’s the connection, you are also 3 and a half times more likely to be arrested during your lifetime.

This is UNACCEPTABLE. This is an opportunity for change where we can create new pipelines for the future and work to end mass incarceration. This is the work of Planting People Growing Justice since we are committed to promoting reading and diversity in books.

What geographical area does Planting People Growing Justice impact?

TYNER: We began in my hometown of Rondo in Saint Paul, Minnesota. We have since expanded nationally.

Our most recent visit was to New Orleans, Louisiana. We are headed to Earle, Arkansas next to host our Leaders are Readers program to support the education initiatives of Mayor Jaylen Smith, the youngest elected Black mayor in United States history.

What is a fond memory connected with Planting People Growing Justice?

TYNER: My fond memory was receiving an email from a father. I gave him a copy of Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire for his daughter. He wrote back that when he gave his daughter the book, she hugged the book and exclaimed: “Daddy, it’s me.” This touched my heart since I did not have diverse books growing up. I never saw a representation of myself on the pages of a book. We are working to change this by creating those mirrors where young people of color can see a positive representation of themselves in books and windows where all children can build bridges across cultures.

What is your favorite book?

TYNER: My favorite book is No More Throw-Away People: The Co-Production Imperative by Dr. Edgar Cahn. Cahn founded Timebank USA and co-developed the blueprint for National Legal Services Program. This book teaches us how to support societal reform by embracing the values of our shared humanity and common destiny. 

Looking at your Phi Beta Kappa membership, how does your liberal arts and sciences background influence your determination to educate children in reading and leadership?

TYNER: My liberal arts education provided me with the tools needed to think critically and take strategic action. I teach my students the importance of when we see a problem, we create a solution. My education equipped me with the tools to address the complex social justice challenges of the 21st century like the nation’s reading crisis and mass incarceration. I use an interdisciplinary and interprofessional approach to lead change. For instance, I work with social workers, demographers, and engineers to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and develop sustainable solutions. 

What is your favorite part about working with students?

TYNER: My favorite part is inspiring children to discover the leader within. I recently visited a middle school and introduced my latest book: Amanda Gorman: Inspiring Hope with Poetry. We discussed the power of words and how they can be used to reimagine and build a more just and inclusive society. 

I asked the students to explore how Gorman used the metaphor of “light” to teach us about leadership. We can shine our light and make a difference in the world.

How are you bringing light into the world?

Beks Freeman (they/he) is a senior at Purdue University double majoring in acting and creative writing. They were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in April 2022. Purdue University is home to the Zeta of Indiana chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to their undergraduate studies, Freeman is pursuing acting, teaching, and fight directing certifications in stage combat with Dueling Arts International.