‘Everyone needs a hero who looks like them.’
This week’s chosen woman is 11-year-old Marley Dias from West Orange, New Jersey, who has taken the literary world by storm through the foundation of her book drive, #1000BlackGirlBooks. Frustrated by the lack of gender and race diversity in her 5th grade reading assignments, she was inspired to start her project by her mother asking her the simple question, ‘well, what are you going to do about it?’
Dias’ campaign focuses on the collection and distribution of books where the main character is a black girl, in an attempt not only to encourage reading diversity, but also to enable more children to have the chance to identify with the characters that they read about. She argues that when the reader feels represented in the books they are reading they are more encouraged to learn lessons to ‘improve their lifestyle’.
The book drive caught public attention and received large-scale donations from sources such as Barnes and Noble and Stacked Books, where Kelly Jensen raised £2000 in donations to send Dias a range of books. In a blog post about the campaign, Jensen highlighted the difficulties she had with actually locating the ‘black girl books’, and therefore emphasised quite how important Dias’ project really is.
The public attention the campaign has received also propelled Marley into the limelight, shown by her feature on the Ellen DeGeneres show, where she received further generous funding, and selection as a speaker at the 3% Conference. She was even invited to be an editor-in-residence at Elle magazine, where she created the ‘Marley Mag’, and had the opportunity to interview some very high-profile women, including Hilary Clinton. Dias has also been chosen to be keynote speaker for the #BossGirls Awards Luncheon of 2017 run by PACE.
The project has ended up greatly exceeding Dias’ aims, with more than 7000 books being collected so far. Her original plan was to collect the books and donate them to the parish of St Mary in Jamaica, where her mother came from, but the success of the collection means that Dias has decided to extend this to several other schools in the New Jersey, including her very own elementary school.
The GrassROOTS Community Foundation, co-founded by Dias’ mother, has supported Dias’ campaign throughout. They have also created an on-going resource guide with the books that have been donated, which you can find here: http://grassrootscommunityfoundation.org/1000-black-girl-books-resource-guide/.
‘I want to use what I’ve learned to elevate the voices of all those who have been ignored and left out.’
Marley Dias’ project is inspiring, not only as a demonstration of the power of the individual, regardless of age, gender or race, but also in highlighting the real issues that surround diversity in literature. Dias plans to continue to act as an agent for change, not only through continuing to change how we see black girls in books and culture, but also to create new spaces for better representation.