Ty is an award-winning children’s book author, literacy advocate, captivating motivational speaker, and honorary Doctorate recipient. In 2011 he founded Big Head Books, LLC, a literacy organization that aims to introduce children to the joys of reading. Ty travels around the country inspiring children and educating adults about the impacts of illiteracy. A three-time TedX presenter, Ty believes that literacy is the foundation for a successful life and promotes it with humor and enthusiasm. Ty’s work as an author and literacy advocate earned him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from MCLA, the Massachusetts inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Content of Character Award, and citations from the Massachusetts Governor, Senator, and the House of Representatives. Ty’s books have been featured on CNN, NBC Nightly News, The Steve Harvey Show, PBS and countless other media outlets. In 2012, Ty’s books were gifted to former First Lady Michelle Obama by his hometown mayor. He is the co-founder of the Read or Else movement and Danny Dollar Academy.
Q&A With Ty
What has been the most influential book in your life?
It’s impossible to choose just one, but three come to mind. The first is Native Son by Richard Wright, because it was the first novel I ever read AND the first book I had read featuring a black man as the protagonist. The second is The Autobiography of Malcolm X because it taught me about redemption and the power of being able to change who you are. The last is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein because it captures the magic that is bestowed on our children through literature.
You are known for your love of comic books. Why are comic books so important to you?
I grew up reading them. Comic book heroes are known for characteristics like nobility, courage, honor, strength, goodwill, wit and selflessness. These are all characteristics that I carry with me every day and try to project on the young people that I meet.
Did you always enjoy reading?
I grew up surrounded by books. They were in every room of my house, and my mother was constantly reading despite being a single mom raising two boys and working two jobs. To this day, books remind me of home.
You often use #AuthorFromTheBronx in your social media posts. Why is the Bronx so special to you?
The Bronx is where I found my voice. I was a shy, bashful kid until the emergence of hip hop music in the area. Hip hop gave previously silent, marginalized kids a platform to express our joys and our sorrows, triumphs and failures. The Bronx is also where the world champion Yankees reside. 27 rings baby!
When did you write your first book?
In 2009 my seven year old son, Ajayi, asked if he could open a lemonade stand. After selling lemonade for a few hours, he made $50. Ajayi asked what he should do with all that money… and I didn’t know. I went to a book store to search for books that teach children about finance and entrepreneurship, and I couldn’t find a single book. So I wrote one. Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire: The Lemonade Escapade was born in the parking lot of that very book store.
How many other books have you written?
Since Danny Dollar, I’ve written three more books: The Supadupa Kid; You Are Amazing, I Am Amazing; and When I Close My Eyes. I’m currently working on The Supadupa Kid 2, so stay tuned!
Who is your idol?
I have three primary idols. 1) My mom, who had me when she was 15 and gave me the love and discipline I needed to become the man I am today; 2) Malcom X, one of the most transformational leaders in history, and a testament to the human spirit. He proved that no person is ever lost, regardless of where they come from; and 3) Howard Stern, a person with true conviction and a commitment to offering humor when we need it most.
What is your favorite food?
Oh my gosh I’m such a foodie, it’s ridiculous. My favorite cuisines are West Indian, Thai and soul food. But if you really want to melt my heart, give me chocolate chip cookies. They are my kryptonite!
What is one piece of advice you like to give to kids?
I love this powerful Kanye West quote: “There’s a thousand you’s, there’s only one of me.” On my journey from a kid in the Bronx to an author on a mission to inspire children, I’ve found there are fewer things more important than expressing your own individuality. You are the only you on this planet. If you embrace that, and read every day, you will become a real life superhero!
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Photos by Augusta Rose Photo