By Maddie Orton
In many ways, Marley Dias is your typical sixth-grader. She loves goofing around with friends and has homework on the brain. But at 11, Dias is also a revolutionary. She’s the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks — a book drive to collect 1,000 books that feature women and girls of color as the protagonists.
“I understood that in my fifth grade class I was only being recommended or allowed to read books about white boys and dogs,” said Dias. “I was reading a book called ‘Old Yeller’, which of course is a classic, ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ and the ‘Shiloh’ series, and this book called ‘Crash’.”
Marley’s mom, Janice Johnson Dias, founded the nonprofit GrassROOTS Community Foundation. It’s an organization that aims to empower women through health and wellness programs, so when Marley approached her mom with the problem she saw at school, Janice gave her daughter a challenge.
“I told her, and then she said, ‘Well what are you going to do about it?'” recalled Marley. “So we decided to start a campaign in which black girls are the main characters of the book.”
They started a social media campaign, and books for all age groups began pouring in.
How many does she have now?
“Two thousand three hundred,” said Marley. “I would say it’s definitely international. We do get a lot from America, but a 13-year-old girl from Japan sent me some books, which was really cool, and we have some books from Uganda and I think New Zealand or Australia?”
That’s not including books donated by companies like Scholastic and My Very Own Library. They add another 1,600 to the total.
Marley has also gotten support from teachers, friends and some pretty big names like Larry Wilmore and Ellen DeGeneres.
“I was really overwhelmed at first, but then I just became accustomed to it. Like, one day someone just ran up to me and hugged me at my school and then ran away, and I was like, ‘I know this is really real now,'” Marley said.
She and her team of helpers have donated books to local schools as well as her mother’s former school in Jamaica. Marley has easily surpassed her 1,000-book benchmark, but her work is far from over.
“The main goal really is not just to be about black girls, it’s really about inclusion of different races and different genders for kids to be able to read and for school boards to give to the teachers to teach,” she said.
Marley is still collecting books to distribute to schools. She says she hopes to expand the project by creating an online book club so readers from all over can enjoy the same titles and discuss.