Photo credit: Andrea Cipriani Mecchi
Marley Dias has interviewed Hillary Clinton, Misty Copeland, and Ava DuVernay; served as ELLE.com’s inaugural editor-in-residence; spoken at the White House’s United State of Women Conference; and next spring she’ll release her first book, an activist guide to help young people turn their passions into social action, with Scholastic. Dias is 12 years old.
Last year, when Dias was 11, she noticed a lack of books about girls like her at her school and an overabundance of books about white boys and dogs (Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Shiloh, they’re everywhere). To remedy this problem, she started a book drive to collect books in which Black girls were the main character. Her project, #1000BlackGirlBooks, helped her collect more than 8,000 books, which she’s regifted to elementary schools worldwide. Many of the books Dias collected have been catalogued and are searchable, if you’re looking for recommendations.
Americans are becoming civically active in ways they have never been before, and Dias’s voice is a necessary and exciting addition to literature helping us make sense of these times and what to do next because young adults are pondering the same existential questions. Her book will explore “activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, using social media for good (not just makeup tutorials and angry tweets), and shows how young people can galvanize their strengths to make positive changes in our world.” Dias is 100 percent #BlackGirlMagic, and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to after changing the world with her book.
Dias has done a tremendous amount of work in bringing critical attention to a nationwide systemic problem, highlighting what is missing from the books that are made available to children through their schools. We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots organization that advocates for the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people, has taken on the same task. Still, the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white and books written by people of color are disproportionately banned, and as the gavel drops on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, the importance of representation in books for young adults cannot be overstated; even as a tween, Dias knows it:
I believe Black girl books are really important because when you are young, you want to read lots of books, but you especially like to read books with people that look like you. While I have books at home about Black girls, the books at school were not diverse. Children do most of their reading in schools or because of schools. Teachers assign books that you must read. If those books are not diverse and do not show different people’s experiences, then kids are going to believe that there is only one type of experience that matters.
As we face the DeVos-doom of public education, Dias is a shining example of civic and literary activism that we should all pay attention to. She is not only a light unto our path; she’s paving the path herself. Today we may have been given Betsy DeVos, but we are all capable of being Marley Dias.