At Girl Up, we know that you’re never too young to change the world. And no one better illustrates this than 11 year-old Marley Dias, the pint-sized superpower behind the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign. Frustrated to constantly be reading books without any characters she could identify with, Marley launched a movement to collect and distribute books featuring inspiring characters of color. Her movement has gained national attention, and has been featured on the Huffington Post, CNN, and even the Ellen Show. So, we were thrilled when Girl Up Advisory Council member and former Access Hollywood anchor Shaun Robinson had the opportunity to talk to Marley about her campaign (and, of course, who her #GIRLHERO is!).
Shaun Robinson: Tell me how you came up with the idea of #1000BlackGirlBooks?
Marley Dias: Well, I was motivated to get involved with the world very early on, through my mom’s foundation, the GrassROOTS Community Foundation. I went to the Foundation’s Super Camp, which taught me to use your gifts and talents to do great things. They teach you everything from African history to yoga. The program revolves around these four principles: truth, order, balance, and reciprocity.
These are the elements of harmony, so they’re all things that we revolve around. They teach you this at the camp and you take it with you. It’ll click around something you love. Like for me, I saw a problem and used my gifts and talents – like my love of reading, and the fact that reading has given me a lot, which is how I was inspired to start this campaign.
I love to read, but I wasn’t reading about any characters that looked like me, or that I could identify with. I talked to my mom about it and she asked me what I was going to do about it. So, after thinking about it I was inspired to collect 1000 books with black girls as the main character to give to students in Jamaica where my mom is from.
SR: That is absolutely AMAZING! I am so glad you were inspired to initiate this movement, because it’s really important for girls to read about characters they can identify with in books, don’t you think?
MD: Yes, I agree. Definitely
SR: Tell me why that’s so important.
MD: I think it’s important because I know that when you’re young, you get pushed to read a lot, and most of the time I’ve seen kids turned off of reading because they don’t see anyone that looks like them or a shared identity as them. So, it’s important because as soon as you find those books, then you’re going to remember a lot more of the things in them because they might push you to try something new because the characters did. When you have something in common, it’s easier to learn about things like teamwork, or even being an entrepreneur.
SR: That’s right, it’s important to show girls that the sky is the limit. You’re absolutely right. How’s the campaign going? How many books have you collected?
MD: We’ve collected about 4,000 books where black girls are the main character, and about 2,000 other books that we’ll donate to different organizations.
SR: That’s great! Now tell me, what characters from the books you’ve collected so far inspire you the most?
MD: One of my favorites is Aya, who is a very very smart girl, and her friends are really outgoing and they love to have fun. But school is really important to Aya. I think her story shows to girls that it’s important to balance things, and analyze whether a situation is the best situation for you to be in.
Another one is a book about a girl called Disaster, which is one of the first black girl books that I read. It’s about a girl whose mother died and everyone was scared to tell her the truth about her family, so she had to go out by herself and figure out her history and what happened to her family, and why she was alone. It’s about being brave and moving forward with whatever you feel like you need to know.
The last one is Chains, which is one of the most popular black girl books. It’s about a girl named Isasbelle, and she was originally a slave. Eventually she becomes a spy for the United States during the time of the Civil War.
SR: Wow! That sounds really incredible. You know, here at Girl Up, we talk a lot about #GIRLHEROES – girls and women who inspire us. Who is your #GIRLHERO?
MD: I’d have to say my mom because she’s always been the one pushing me to do my best, even if my best might not be like other people’s bests. She tells me I shouldn’t compare myself.
SR: When people are writing books with #GIRLHEROES, can you give them any ideas of books that you’d like to read?
MD: First thing I’d like to say is that I’m not the entire girl populous, so I can’t say things for every single author. But what I’d personally like to see is a graphic novel because I feel like pictures are awesome to look at, and I know that kids can find it difficult to deal with sensory details and can’t understand the character because they can’t see him or her in their mind. Another thing I’d like to see, is a girl who develops from being a dependent person to an independent person.
SR: Marley, this has been amazing and I’ve been so honored to meet you!
MD: Thank you so much!