TikTok Viral 34-Year-Old Oliver Opens Up About Struggle With Illiteracy + His Quest to Learn to Read

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Playing This Man Is Sharing Quest to Learn to Read on TikTok

Oliver has been struggling with illiteracy for 34 years—and now he's documenting his quest to learn to read on TikTok and it's truly inspiring. 

"I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and I didn't really learn how to read or write. I was in special education. School was a real struggle for me and it landed me in bad circumstances," Oliver explains.  

"When I was about 19 years old, my entire life changed when I got arrested. I ended up getting sentenced to prison for five years. At that time, I had already been enrolled in a local community college, and despite my reading struggles, the school provided me with a tutor. The court let me finish off my one year in college before I had to turn myself in for my five-year sentence," he says.  

"That one year was a big change for me, because it ultimately led me to my purpose. I took a speech communications class where I gave a speech about going to prison, and I realized, "I've discovered my purpose," which was motivational speaking. I had no idea I was going to be good at it, but the feeling that I got from speaking in front of that class, it got me thinking that I could be more than what I was," Oliver adds.  

"I completed that one year of community college, but afterwards I had to turn myself in. I still didn't know how to read, but I started to learn how to read with shorthand through text messages. It wasn't the proper way, but it was a way," he explains.  

It was after his time in prison that Oliver was reinvigorated to learn to read. "I met this amazing woman. One of the hardest things for me to do was to open up to anybody, especially the woman that I loved, but I had to in order for us to have an open and happy relationship, so I told her, "I struggle with reading," Oliver says.  

She ended up buying him a book of motivational quotes, which was just the beginning. "I wanted to open up to the world. To become a motivational speaker, I had to let everybody know who I really was. I decided to document my journey on learning how to read on TikTok," says Oliver.  

Many of his videos begin with five words, "What's Up? I can't read." And, those five words helped Oliver not only go viral, but start a literacy movement.  

"I thought sharing my journey on social media would open up a new outlet, maybe just a new space for people who don't know how to read. I even partner with local schools. We do Zoom calls and I speak to them about the importance of reading, and we actually even have a book club, which is pretty cool," Oliver shares.  


THANK YOU!! #booktok #readingbooks #learning #ocd

♬ original sound - Oliver James

"I'm hoping that, with me opening up to the world and sharing my experience and my struggle with reading and childhood trauma, that it'll allow other people to do the exact same thing, and not have a fear to live their life to their fullest potential," Oliver says.  

"We love to tell stories like this, because this is why we're here, to make everybody understand we are all neighbors. We're all the same. We all have same-circumstance stories to tell to one another," Rach says. And we couldn't agree more!  

"Access to books should just be there like people speak. I've realized that in my life. People should be reading just the way they're speaking. It should be something that just comes hand in hand, especially today. To know the world is dealing with this problem today, it's heartbreaking," Oliver says.  

"Don't be the person who waited to 34 years old or longer. The book world is magical. It's opened up doors for me—look at me now. I mean, I'm on this show. Since I've literally picked up a book, my life has took a course on its own. I can't stop what's happening to me," he adds.  

Our friends at Barnes & Noble are giving Oliver $500 to add to his book collection. How cool is that?!  

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