Philly native addresses declining urban literacy rates

Best-selling author Omar Tyree spreads awareness about literacy problems facing underprivileged youth in black communities with his Urban Literacy Project.

The rapid decline of the United State’s literacy rates has become a major issue, primarily in poor, urban areas.

Omar Tyree, the New York Times best-selling author of 18 books in the past 17 years, wants to do his part in changing this devastating reality through his Urban Literacy Project.

Tyree, who has sold almost 2 million copies of his books worldwide and has generated more than $30 million, is recognized as one of the most influential contemporary writers in the African-American community. He is a native of Philadelphia and a Central High School alumnus who graduated from Howard University in 1991 with a degree in print journalism.

Recently, he made a visit back to his hometown to spread awareness about the escalating literacy problems and provide a solution with his Urban Literacy Project.

The event took place in the School District of Philadelphia’s Parent and Community Resource Center. Tyree, wearing a blazer over dark denim jeans and black shoes, spoke to an audience of about 15 on the literacy issue at hand.

“Boys wouldn’t read even if I gave them the books for free,” Tyree said with a laugh. “I kept trying to figure out how to get men to read. With 12 Brown Boys, I wanted to create something that boys and men could get into.”

His book, 12 Brown Boys, is a collection of short stories that focus on the lives of black preteen males. Tyree assembles a wide range of characters that reflect the diversity of experiences of black teens, making the story relatable to the target audience.

“I’ve found out that women do all the reading,” Tyree said. “That’s what sparked me to write 12 Brown Boys. I am a male and the father of two sons, so I know that young boys who don’t like to read become teenagers who don’t like to read.”

The Urban Literacy Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to increase the overall literacy rate among urban and other underprivileged youth through informative lectures, panel discussions, enrichment opportunities and book donations at schools, community centers, libraries and special national events.

Tyree’s endeavor consists of five main components: reading, writing, thinking, visualization and application. He is trying to get the Urban Literacy Project instilled in the Philadelphia public school system, so teachers can provide this knowledge for their students, inspiring them to develop a passion for reading and creating ideas.

“I will not stop pushing literacy until I’ve done all that I can personally do to improve the reading, writing and thinking skills of each and every child and adult,” Tyree said.

Tyree has officially retired from writing urban adult fiction. His last novel in this genre is Pecking Order, which was published in January 2009. The announcement of his retirement may be sad for many of his fans, but Tyree said that his change in focus would provide a greater benefit to the minds of younger generations who, otherwise, may not have the opportunity to realize their full potentials.

“I just want to teach the black community and the community as a whole,” Tyree said. “All I know how to be is to be passionate about what I’m doing.”

LaToya Allen can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Hello,
    I enjoyed reading your article about Tyree’s efforts with boy’s literacy. Be sure to check out the book, Chess Rumble by Greg Neri. I’ve read this books to inner-city kids in Seattle and they loved it! I’m the founder of a new, innovative literacy program called Boys Read. Boys Read’s mission is to transform boys into lifelong readers. We’re an organization of parents, educators, librarians, mentors, authors, and booksellers. A core objective of Boys Read is to establish Reading Tribes. Tribes are informal reading circles for pleasure and non-deterministic learning. They’re very similar to book clubs. Tribes are a great opportunity to bond with boys. A Tribe Leader acts as a mentor and facilitator for the Tribe. Parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, coaches, and other community outreach programs and services organize Tribes. Our website features many extraordinary authors who have published numerous compelling and gripping novels that boys love. For more information about Boys Read, visit our website at

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