Tuesday marked "mission accomplished" for one New Jersey sixth-grader on a quest to find 1,000 books with characters that look like her.
In November, 11-year-old Marley Dias started the #1000BlackGirlBooks drive. She was frustrated last school year by the books her fifth-grade teacher assigned about "white boys and their dogs" without much variation.
"I understood that my teacher could connect with those characters, so he asked us to read those books," Dias told the Guardian. "But I didn’t relate to them, so I didn’t learn lessons from those stories."
When her mom, Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, asked Marley what she was going to do about it, Dias turned her frustration into action to launch a successful campaign with the help of GrassROOTS Community Foundation, a social-action organization that her mom co-founded.
"All the questions that Marley has, I never thought about," her mother said. "I didn’t know this was so frustrating to her. I didn’t know her experience of sitting in a classroom and she doesn’t see herself reflected."
Marley plans on donating the collection to her school, St. Cloud Elementary in West Orange, and to a school in Jamaica, the country from which her mother emigrated.
Unfortunately, the lack of diversity in the children’s book industry makes it easy for Dias and other children of color to be overlooked as readers.
According to a survey by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 180 of the 3,500 children’s books they received from publishers in 2014 featured black characters, and only 84 were written by black authors.
"I think Marley is a catalyst for articulating something that many people did not have the words for," her mother said.
Since the launch gained momentum, word spread on social media, prompting individuals and booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Stacked Books to donate to Marley's campaign. She has also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, where she celebrated her victory Wednesday evening.
Wilmore asked Dias why this cause was important to her. Dias explained:
When you read a story about a person you connect with — like, well, you host a TV show, so if you were to read a book about a black man who hosts a TV show, you would remember whatever he learned and use it on the show.
By compiling 1,000 books written with black girls in mind, Dias hopes others like her will learn different ways to be whomever and whatever they want to be.