By: Marley Dias

Information Access , Activist

Representations of people in literature impact the way we see ourselves and each other. When there’s a disproportionate representation of one specific race, gender, orientation or ability, it reinforces stereotypes and stigmas which could otherwise be dismantled.

Kids in elementary school see a lot of white boys and dogs, but fewer than 10% of children’s books will have a black person as the main character

My generation of young people, currently between the ages of 10-and-18, are more diverse and a larger population size than any other generation that has come before us. More than 16% are African-American, 12.2% are Asian-American and 17.7% are Hispanic and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the overall number of Latino, African-American and Asian students now surpasses the number of non-Hispanic whites in the public K-12 classrooms.

While the number of children’s books by and about African Americans has jumped by 42% between 2014 and 2015, it still only represents 7-10% of all books published where the central characters are African American. Factor this data alongside the ratio of male central characters at 2:1, as compared to their leading lady counterparts, and you can understand that it’s hard for a girl like me to easily find a role-model in the stories I read. 

My mom posted a great piece entitled “Representation Matters” which describes how the absence of girls of color in books effectively silences their lives and renders them invisible.

It has been said: “Disparity and lack of representation is a symbolic annihilation of children’s understanding and pride of their own culture.” I agree.

My project, #1000BlackGirlBooks, was born out of a summer project that I began while attending a summer leadership academy at the GrassROOTS Community Foundation which my mom runs. Since the camp uniquely focuses on girls of African ancestry, I was able to gain a sense of history and cultural understanding about my own identity and the importance of having role models to inspire us to believe that we can do something extraordinary too.

One of the outcomes of the leadership academy is for each of us to launch a social action project. This is when I came up with the idea for my project. I thought, “if I could raise awareness for the need of books featuring black girls, then I could make a difference!” 

As my mom says, “books about African Americans and books by African Americans lay the foundation for a positive racial identity, including pride in the African American experience and feelings of connection to the group.”  

Since kids search for themselves in books, we have to be able to provide ample examples of what they are able to do in order to improve self-esteem, academic achievement and psychological well-being.

I believe that #1000BlackGirlBooks is the first step in many that will help African American Girls learn that they can be agents of change in the world that they want. Being strong and heroic is available to all races and genders.

  • Hello! I’m Marley. I am the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks and also write the “What’s Popping (Pop Culture) Report for BAM, a “social action" network co-founded by me and two friends. I’m the girliest tomboy you’ll ever meet. That means I like nail polish and unicorns as well as football and nature. I once was a quarterback for a football team, but I am also a signed model.


Advice for my peers

BE YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF: Starting a social action project demands that you put yourself out there. It's going to be your unique perspective that makes what you're doing powerful, so just believe that you already have what it takes inside you to do it right. I feel like if you're able to be yourself and truthful to who you are, then you're going to be able to make a difference. Ultimately, it's your passion that is going to make the difference and drive things forward.

LISTEN TO OTHERS: Each of us have a lot to learn, and  I am grateful to my dad for teaching me to solve my own problems!

DON'T BE AFRAID OF SETTING BIG GOALS: Initially, I was pretty worried about finding 1,000 books -- but as of June 2016, we've collected over 7,000 books! As a result of that I've been invited to speak about my cause at school assemblies, in bookstores and even on the Ellen DeGeneres Show where I was awarded a $10,000 dollar check! A gift that enables me to make bigger impact. 

ADULTS DO LISTEN TO KIDS AFTER ALL: Sometimes young people don't believe that the adults around them are really listening, but they are! So long as you are clear about what you're trying to do, there are a lot of great grown-ups out there who can help you take your project to the next step. 

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A GREAT TOOL, BUT IT'S BETTER TO CONNECT WITH REAL PEOPLE. I had the opportunity to meet with John King, the Secretary of Education, actress Masai Martin (who palys Diane of Blackfish) and Rita Williams Garcia, the author of "One Crazy Summer." If you want my opinion, having real people (and really important people) interact with you at live events, gives you the ability to make it better.

Similar Innovations