“I created State Vs. Us Magazine after coming out of prison because I wanted to highlight high profile cases, talk about prison reform, and create a space for men and women who are incarcerated to control their own narratives by telling their own stories.
I went into different businesses in Baltimore and asked them to display the magazine, but I didn’t get responses. I then tried to open my own kiosk in a local mall to sell the magazines and was denied. I was told I was too political.
In true Tia fashion, I said I'm just going to go bring my own table and my own chairs and do what I want.
That's why I opened Urban Reads Bookstore, because no one wanted to put my magazines in their stores, so I created my own bookstore and put my own magazine and books by local authors in there.
Urban Reads Bookstore has become a staple in the community. It's powerful, it's a statement, and it's impactful.
When I decided to create this space on Greenmount Avenue, in the black community, I didn't know it was going to be this strong.
I was intentional about the location because I wanted to create a place for black children to come and correlate themselves with what they see in books. During the first month of us opening, I remember seeing a little boy with his father, mother, and siblings.
He pointed to a book and said, “Daddy, that looks like me, and that looks like you.” That made me so happy that he was excited about a book because people who looked like his father and himself were on the cover.
It feels good to be doing this work because when I was facing sixty plus years in prison, I told God I would leave the street life alone if he helped me.
I had a good lawyer who cared and fought for me, so I did eight months in jail. When I came out, I was committed to my promise to God, and I thank him everyday for giving me the opportunity to try again and get it right.
Urban Reads Bookstore and the work I do in the community are my way of helping other people to have another chance at making it right for themselves.
I love having my business in Baltimore City because I know it has a direct impact on the community and I have partnerships with organizations here that help me make that impact.
I'm not one of those people on social media just talking about the crime and poverty in the community, I take an active role in helping to change things.
Everything we are witnessing in poor neighborhoods in Baltimore City is by design. Why can't Baltimore have the same resources Montgomery County has? Why do all these black cities in America lack the resources needed for them to thrive?
I believe it’s by design, but we can change that for ourselves by getting active in our communities with our time and services.
We have to come together as a community and let our young people know they are the future and we are going to support them.
That's why I have a youth summit in August at the bookstore. We will have two panels, one for the youth and one for our guests. I'm bringing Yandy from Love & Hip Hop, Jamila T. Davis, Tamika Mallory, and the whole Until Freedom Team to Baltimore. We're going to activate. Our job is to listen to the youth and we are going to activate based on their needs.
There are several organizations in Baltimore that I’ve partnered with to support the community. Johns Hopkins has done a great job of including me in work they are doing in the community and with small businesses. I am on the board of the Waverly Main Street Business Association, I’ve partnered with Keys Empowers, the Abell Association and will be doing work with Living Classrooms soon.
Partnerships are very important for small businesses. It is also important to uplift the underrepresented voices of people within the business community because we provide valuable insight.
I have a unique perspective that I bring to the table. I've worked in the corporate world, lived the street life and I'm a former gang member, so I'm able to look at things in many ways based on my experiences.
When decisions are being made about people who have had experiences like mine, we need to be leading the conversations or be part of them.
My hope for the future of Baltimore's economy is that we get it right. We’ve got to stop funding the police the way we fund them now. We have to also give them the proper training. In Norway, candidates can’t become officers until they complete three years of training. That’s why they don’t have a lot of crime because the police respect the citizens.
We’ve also got to get education to be free for everyone who wants to go to college. We’ve got to get Baltimore to fund the right communities and get people mental health services. Black people are scared to get help for mental health, but we have to because not getting help is killing us.
We’ve got to be able to start putting more funding into our babies and we have to understand and listen to them. It’s important for parents to put their children in activities all year long. Whether it's football, baseball or karate, our children need to have something to do.
We’ve also got to start giving jobs to citizens who are returning from prison. A lot of people who are on the streets doing illicit things, really don’t want to be there. They just need the opportunity to have good jobs. They will show up and do a great job if they have the opportunity.
I believe doing all these things in the underserved communities of Baltimore will change lives and in turn change the economy and the communities for the better.”