Oliver James didn’t set out to motivate and inspire others on TikTok, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
The 35-year-old motivational speaker began to share his journey of learning how to read to help himself but quickly realized it was helping others at the same time.
Oliver James Is Teaching Himself How To Read And Sharing The Experience
James began posting about his learning-to-read journey on TikTok back in October 2022 when he was 33 years old. He simply said, “What’s up? I can’t read” and ran with it from there. With more than 275,000 followers on TikTok and another 60,500 on Instagram, he’s motivating many by being honest about his reading struggles.
In just a year, James has come a long way in his journey. This past October, he was honored by the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and read from a teleprompter.
“I was nervous,” James told PEOPLE. “But knowing that I was about to do something in front of all those people that I wasn’t very good at was an exciting type of nervousness that I’ll never forget.”
His story is an inspiring one. Growing up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, James said that life was more about survival than education. He struggled with ADHD and learning disabilities and ended up graduating from high school “without knowing how to read, and no one cared.”
James spent his early 20s in prison for dealing firearms and when released in 2014, he became a fitness instructor and moved to California with his girlfriend, who had no idea he couldn’t read until he told her around the time he began making TikTok videos about it.
“It was my biggest secret,” James said. “I kept it hidden from everyone.”
James now estimates he reads at a third-grade level and just finished reading his 81st book.
“For most of my life, I never even thought about owning a book,” he said. “Now, I’ve got two bookshelves filled with about 300 books.”
Oliver James Shares His Reading Journey On TikTok
James has been sharing his very real experience learning how to read on social media, even when times get tough.
In a video shared in June that’s pinned to the top his TikTok page, James opens up about how tough it can be to teach himself how to read.
“I started teaching myself how to read, sometimes I feel like this is the worst d— decision I made in my life,” he said in the viral video. “Maybe this is part of the journey. Maybe that’s why I have to document it. So in two years people see me smiling about me reading because I got through a part. But right now, I don’t know if that’s true.”
The venting video continued to explain how life has been and that he’s having more problems lately. With more than 1 million views and more than 20,000 comments, it seems his vent is relatable to many.
“Oliver be gentle with yourself. You have the right to anger, to tears, to feeling. You have the support and love of many. You’re making lives better🤗,” one viewer wrote. Another added, “It’s okay to vent. I’m glad you did. Take a deep breath. Take a break. Just don’t give up. The journey is worth the struggle.”
James dropped into the comments to say, “Wow I can’t believe this response I really appreciate this y’all I’m definitely changing for better. 📚”
In another video, James shared a time he was reading to a group of students in kindergarten to third grade.
@oliverspeaks1 Got an opportunity to read to students grade kindergarten through third #booktok #books ♬ original sound – Oliver James
“Hearing an adult say “I didn’t know what that was” or “I just learned that too!” is so important I love it,” one viewer wrote in the comments. Another said, “You have found your purpose and it’s so beautiful to watch. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you. 💖”