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When Books About Boys and Dogs Aren't Enough

Photograph by FOX

New Jersey 11-year-old Marley Dias loves to read. She also loves social activism—which we'll get to in a second, after we focus on her love of reading. Dias noticed that literature aimed at kids her age wasn't terribly inclusive. She's a black girl. Where were the main characters that looked like her?

Dias brought it up with her mom.

"I told her I was sick of reading about white boys and dogs," Dias told the Philly Voice, referring to "Where the Red Fern Grows" and the "Shiloh" books.

Her mom didn't miss a beat.

"'What are you going to do about it?' Dr. Janice Johnson Dias asked her daughter.

The response? "I told her I was going to start a book drive, and a specific book drive, where black girls are the main characters in the book and not background characters or minor characters."

This is where the social activism comes in. Dias set a goal of gathering 1,000 books where the main character is a black girl. She got word out about her book drive using the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks and has been speaking to local news organizations since. The tween hopes to reach her goal by Monday. She's gotten national attention.

Dias' mom, the president of Philadelphia's GrassROOTS Community Foundation, encouraged her daughter and the project, recognizing the need for her daughter to see herself worthy of stories. Dr. Dias grew up in Jamaica did not have to struggle with her identity.

"I didn't need identification, or I didn't desire it because I grew up in an all-black country," Dr. Dias told PhillyVoice. "She's not growing up in an all-black country; she's growing up in a fairly white suburb, in a country that only has 12.6 percent of blacks. ... For young black girls in the U.S., context is really important for them—to see themselves and have stories that reflect experiences that are closer to what they have or their friends have."

The goal isn't to ignore the boy and dog books, but to expand the options. "[I]t doesn't have to be the only thing they get, but the absence of it is clearly quite noticeable," Dr. Dias explains.

The project #1000BlackGirlBooks is part of an annual social action effort from GrassROOTS called "Super Camp," which focuses on socio-economically disadvantaged middle school girls. The program works to empower and improve the health of the girls it serves. Dr. Dias cofounded GrassROOTS with lead MC of The Roots Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought) seven years ago.

Photograph by: Janice Dias

The book drive isn't Dias' first taste of activism and working for change. Within the middle-schooler's activist portfolio is having written, and received funding for, a proposal for a Disney Friends for Change grant, as well has having served food to orphans in Ghana.

The goal of the the #1000BlackGirlBooks is twofold: bringing attention to the literary needs of girls of color in the U.S. And also? Books. Those collected will be shipped to Retreat Primary and Junior School and Library in the parish of St. Mary, Jamaica, where Dr. Dias was raised.

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