17-year-old founder Marley Dias on her #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign and representation in children’s literature

This teen started collecting children’s books that feature Black girls as main characters when she was only 10 years old. Here’s how she’s making a difference.

Video Transcript

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MARLEY DIAS: Books bring us closer to the truth. They hold up a mirror about the reality of our worlds. And when it comes to developing confidence and a better understanding of self, a book can always be a mirror towards something you didn't know you believed in, an idea that you didn't know mattered to you so much, and maybe another reason to keep going that you didn't know you had.

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Hi, I'm Marley Dias. I'm here with "In The Know by Yahoo" and I'm here at the 2022 MAKERS Conference. So the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign is an initiative I started in 2015 when I was 10-years-old. I'm 17 now. And just noticing the lack of diversity within my fifth grade classroom. And how my public high school and educational system did not include the stories of Black girls in their assigned readings. And had a larger issue with diversity and inclusion through their curriculum.

So I came to my mom, complained, as I like to do. And she said, well, what are you going to do about it? And it really started the trajectory of not only a movement that has collected now 14,000 books where Black girls are the main characters, and donated them, creating an online database. But it's also transformed into an initiative that helps and ensures that young people understand their ability to make change. And encouraging and pushing educators and caregivers to understand at least their critical role in the development of young people towards change making.

It's important to be particular about the types of media you consume because they send messages unconsciously and consciously. That even as people write and create scripts, people's biases leak through. Their experiences, their understandings of the world, their perspectives, even if it's satirical, even if it's serious, comedic, romantic, whatever it might be. And that we, of course, as consumers are impacted by those biases.

So what we can do is to create a critical lens and try to look at our media and say, where do we think this is coming from? Who are the types of people that created this project? What do they mean? So as long as we have parents and educators that support kids in those efforts, you can grow up becoming the kind of person that is able to notice when there are inequitable, or racist, or sexist notions within the media that you consume and challenge them and openly know that they are wrong.

Look out there for new types of stories. Challenge yourself to read something that you haven't read before. Banned books have continued to be a really divisive topic. It's one of those things that I would have never thought in 2022 would still be happening. And I really would have hoped to not be a problem for my generation.

Banned books can range from stories about transgender children to stories of kids that are in the LGBTQ community that might mention kissing or dating between two people of the same gender. It could be stories about the prison to school pipeline. Stories about girls and their first experience with pleasure or with intimacy.

We are not only silencing the stories of really incredible authors, but we are divesting from learning in and of itself. But now there is a really important effort to bring books into the digital space where they cannot be regulated in the same way they can be in the physical space. We should take our educational experiences as moments to be challenged, as moments to learn, as moments to build empathy. And as we censor these really valuable stories, we are losing empathy in rapid levels throughout our country and not showing kids the amazing parts of being human and also the hard parts of being human.

Reading and writing are super critical to how we make ourselves feel good. If we see them through this academic lens of, oh it's for grades, that's when we lose some of the joy that can be created through these spaces. And that reading and writing can be a really amazing opportunity to learn about yourself and to learn about someone else who might make you feel less alone.