ST PAUL, Minnesota — Dr. Artika Tyner grew up craving books with stories and protagonists that looked like her. But more often than not, she didn't see herself reflected in the books she read.
"When you're more likely to find a book with a black dog or black bear on the cover than a Black girl or a Black boy, we really wanted to make sure... we knew representation mattered. We wanted to create books that reflected our cultural history and our heritage," Tyner explained.
It's the reason why Tyner created a publishing company and bookstore.
Planting People Growing Justice Press and Bookstore launched in 2017 — based in St. Paul's historic Rondo neighborhood. The social enterprise is focused on increasing diversity in books and promoting leadership development.
Their first book "Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire" follows a girl named Justice whose life changes after learning about prominent African Americans. The award-winning children's book describes Justice as a superhero with a law degree and an Afro.
Tyner, who co-wrote the book, also works as a professor and civil rights attorney.
"I just received a message on LinkedIn and the message was, when the book was delivered... the young child picked it up and said, 'Daddy, it's me! Daddy, it's me!' I think that's what it's all about," Tyner said.
Planting People Growing Justice Press and Bookstore has published six books for children and adults. They plan on launching three books in 2021. Tyner said they are intentional about seeking diverse, local writers.
Besides an online bookstore, they have a physical space in Gideon's Barbershop in south Minneapolis in partnership with Gideon CC LLC.
RELATED: Communities that KARE: Jacob Deisch
"The two go hand and hand. The production process of creating diverse, equitable books and promoting inclusion, in addition to the process of helping to get those books in the hands of children and families all over the world," Tyner said.
In honor of Black History Month, Planting People Growing Justice Press and Bookstore donated 260 copies of "Justice Makes a Difference" to the Minnesota Twins for their Reading is Powerful initiative.
All profits from "Justice Makes a Difference" benefits their nonprofit, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, which promotes literacy in kids. For their other books, they donate a percentage of annual sales to the nonprofit.
"I'm on a mission to ensure that we inspire young people to read. Because we know that literacy is the building block around education and around better outcomes for education," Tyner said.
Planting People Growing Justice Press also partners with local libraries. You can download free copies of their books through Biblioboard.
Tyner didn't want cost to be a barrier to the messages in their books.
Tyner added, "I know for me, those pieces time and time again of saying, 'That's me! That's a reflection of me!' has been the greatest blessing of our work."