Marley Dias’ Inspirational Goal to Collect Books About Girls of Color

What can we learn from a 12-year-old who’s turning the literary world upside down? Everything

Marley Dias
(Erin Patrice O’Brien; Wardrobe Stylist: Jocelyn Kaye; Hair/Makeup: Melanie Harris: Prop Stylist: Helen Quinn)

Jacqueline Woodson, Photographs by Erin Patrice O’Brien

Smithsonian Magazine

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December 2017

ONE CHILD like so many children,

searched the shelves for herself as the center,

As the star she knew she was,

As the narrator of a brown girl narrative, a story

she already knew—herself on the page and found


One child in the world for only ten years ALREADY KNEW

Of Tubman, of Chisholm, of Sojourner Truth,

of Angela Davis and Black Girl Magic—this power

running through the blood of her youth.

Still, where was she? How was the world of fiction and history moving

without her in it? Already knew

her country’s, her classroom’s, her world out there’s

audacity. Her journey now beginning.

So many before her making ways out of No Way. Change choosing them to show her

how much SHE MATTERED, how much

a black girl on the page, mattered, fingers moving over

book after book where she didn’t exist—mattered. Her black life

Mattered. She remembered

Ruby Bridges at 6—eyes straight ahead toward her parents’ dream

for her, a world that was not separate, but equal. Her fear

like the satchel clutched in her small hand, MOVING FORWARD

through the doorway of a New Orleans schoolhouse

into history.

Through the frustration of fingers searching shelves, came

for Marley, a revelation, an activation

Absence to Anger.

Anger to Hope.

Hope to Action.

Action to Change.

Sometimes the road already knows our journey…

Marley Dias seeing black girls in the absence of black girls, her own

wake-up call, so many books where white boys and dogs crowded classroom libraries

as brown hands reached

for reflections of brown bodies, grasped air. She knew

the books were out there. STARTED A MOVEMENT

to get the stories where they belonged, into the hands

of the young people, who were hungry

for classroom libraries where they, too, existed.

This absence, to Marley, meant


#1000BlackGirlBooks was born, a hashtag and soon

a revolution—The goal, to collect one thousand books where Black Girls

told THEIR STORIES, she knew the stories were out there

publishers, writers, family friends and strangers got wind of Marley’s story

One to One Hundred, 1000 to Ten Thousand—until,

Thousands of books were going out again—

Five thousand books donated into the hands of many

children across the nation and out into the world

from Newark to the Navajo Nation,

from Flint, Michigan, to Jamaica West Indies, one child on a journey

to erase the erasure, to rewrite an almost-history

of invisibility

But why stop there? Her work not done yet, she began

to host book parties where young people donated, exchanged, discussed

the books they’ve come to love where Black Girls featured FRONT AND CENTER

So many hundreds of girls seeing so many thousands of girls on the page


And still

Marley wanted more. Formed #BlackGirlBookClub where black girls

get together to read books that, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who once herself

was a black girl and went on to change the face of Black Children’s literature,

so beautifully put it, provided windows and mirrors

into their stories of black girlhood and womanhood—the world

growing bigger and stronger and more loving with the turn of every page.

And still and still

With the help of her mother’s Grassroots organization

The books were logged, a list created of 1,000 Black Girl Books

Online now for anyone who wants, needs our stories,

Thousands more books housed in the Grassroots library

near her home in West Orange, New Jersey—until they go out

into hungry classroom libraries, end up in the wanting hands of young people who

for too long have had to read books where they didn’t exist. Tomorrow

they will see themselves—for too many, this will be

the first time.

To date, 10,000 books have been collected

because ONE CHILD was asked the question

So what are you going to do about it?

And did what she had to do.

Then signed a book contract at 12

Marley Gets It Done (And So Can You!), it’s true

One child’s commitment to social justice and change

has changed a nation.

Marley Dias, 21st-Century Hero who knows

what the ancestors knew

that through

frustration comes determination and innovation, who says

I want to use what I’ve learned to elevate the voices

of all those who have been ignored and left out.

Young person turned activist turned friend—I am proud to know

that I get to walk this road

with Marley who, named for Bob Marley, walks with so many who came before her

and knows

her change is part of a continuum—

Yet all HER OWN.

Marley Dias

(Erin Patrice O’Brien; Wardrobe Stylist: Jocelyn Kaye; Hair/Makeup: Melanie Harris: Prop Stylist: Helen Quinn)

Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!

In this accessible guide with an introduction by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, Marley Dias explores activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, and using social media for good.


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This article is a selection from the December issue of Smithsonian magazine