Oliver James: The Inspiring Story of a TikTok Star’s Journey to Literacy

Oliver James, a personal trainer living in the Los Angeles area, has become an inspiration to many for his journey of learning to read as an adult. James’ story began when he posted a video on TikTok, where he shares his motivational and workout content. In the video, he admits that he can’t read, which immediately drew people’s attention. Sharing the videos on TikTok allows James to read aloud, with his audience holding him accountable.

James’ is one of over 8 million adults in the United States who are considered functionally illiterate in English. He grew up with learning and behavior disabilities, which led to him being restrained and put into headlocks as a child in special education, James told the LA Times. The abuse he suffered as a child manifested itself into a life on the streets in his teens and eventually led to incarceration for trafficking guns. At the time, James had no idea he could go to jail for this, and he didn’t even know what he went to jail for because he couldn’t read his paperwork, he later told Inside Edition.

Through the help of the TikTok “BookTok” community, James began his journey towards literacy, which he admits was a struggle for him. He discovered the BookTok community while working out in a park and decided to add reading to his routine. The community embraced him, and he has since gained over 120k followers on BookTok, just by sharing his own story through his love for books.

Oliver James talks about his reading journey on TikTok's BookTok.
Photo: TikTok / @oliverspeaks1
Oliver James talks about his reading journey on TikTok’s BookTok.

James is demonstrating the power of determination and the importance of access to literacy. He hopes that by improving his reading, he can get a job above his current pay grade and reach his ultimate goals. He’s so far read books like books like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Outsiders, while thousands tune in to cheer him on.

@oliverspeaks1 Learning to read #reading ♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic

Despite not intending to return to school, James is presently concentrating on reading 100 books in 2023 and may enlist a tutor to instruct him in Spanish later on. His experience has demonstrated that with perseverance and assistance, individuals can surpass their constraints and realize their aspirations.

James’ story highlights the struggles that many Americans face in receiving mental health care due to financial barriers. More than 50% of respondents say cost prevents them from trying a treatment they are interested in, according to a 2021 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Unable to afford therapy, James has resorted to self-help books to manage his PTSD and OCD. Reading has become a powerful tool for him to manage his mental health and bond with his son.

@oliverspeaks1 Reading workout I’m Going to the library for 4 books help me get better. ##books##reading ♬ original sound – Oliver James

Sadly, James is also is one of the millions of adults who have been failed by the same education system that was built to provide access to literacy for all Americans. Access to literacy is not a luxury, but a fundamental human right. This man’s journey is a reminder that with determination and support, people can overcome their limitations and achieve their dreams.

@oliverspeaks1 Thoughts on diary of Anne Frank being our first book to read ? ##books##diaryofannefrank##readbookseveryday##bookchallenge ♬ original sound – Oliver James

James has shown us the power of determination, resilience, and community. His vulnerability and honesty about his struggles with illiteracy have made him an inspiration to many, and his journey serves as a reminder of the importance of access to literacy. Through the help of the TikTok community, James has overcome his limitations and has achieved what many considered impossible.

James’ dedication is unique, but his story is sadly all too common in the United States. Millions of adults still lack basic reading skills that can help them become more productive members of society, get better jobs, and help their families thrive.

@oliverspeaks1 Don’t let anyone tell you who and what you are. If you tell yourself you are smart then that’s who and want you are. Only your opinion matters about you. #keeplearning #youaresmart #readmorebooks📚 #booktok ♬ original sound – Oliver James

Since the mid- 1960s, the Federal Government has played a critical role in providing education services to adults with inadequate literacy skills. Unlike elementary and secondary education, where a mature State and local infrastructure existed before the Federal Government entered the field, public adult education is in many ways a Federal creation. Along with grant programs, the Adult Education Act (AEA) is the biggest federal driver of support for adult literacy and basic skills education.

Click below to demand an increase in federal support for critical programs that help adults overcome illiteracy!

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