West Orange Sixth Grader Turns The Page Toward Diverse Reading Through Book Campaign  

By Cheryl Conway

Photo by Andrea Cipriani Mecchi
Photo by Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

An 11-year old West Orange girl who planned on collecting 1,000 books that feature black girls as the main character has gone way beyond her goal and plans to keep on collecting.

Marley Dias, a sixth grader at Edison Middle School in West Orange, loves to read but when she realized that most of the characters she was reading about were either about white boys or dogs, she decided she needed to do something to change that. Marley with the support and help of her mother’s foundation-GrassROOTS of Community Foundation in West Orange- began an initiative she titled, #1000BlackGirlBooks Campaign

No matter the genre, readers like to relate to the characters they read in books.

“For every different race there is going to be a different type of story told,” Marley explains. “It’s not going to be the same; they each have a different problem. We all need to see ourselves in books.”

Marley took notice this year of the lack of books with black girls as the main character.

“I wanted more diversity in the books I was reading,” says Marley who likes to read everyday. She knew she wanted more “black girl books.” She says, “In school I wasn’t reading them; they weren’t there at all. I didn’t see them very often and I didn’t see them in my class.”

That led Marley to starting her social media campaign in Nov. 2015, with an original plan to finish the collection Feb. 1 and donate the books to an elementary and middle school in Jamaica, West Indies, where Marley’s mom was raised. When the need to provide these books to even more communities was realized, Marley and her mom decided to keep collecting.


“We reached our goal and recognized the need to reach other communities so we extended it,” says Janice Dias, Marley’s mom. “We don’t see that’ll end; we see it’s a need that others are experiencing.”

Janice, who founded the GrassROOTS of Community Foundation in 2011 to support the health and well-being of women and girls, says “There are very few books where black girls are the main character and they are certainly not being assigned in schools.”

Studies and reports conducted during a two to three year period have shown that there are “three percent of books that actually have black people as the main characters,” says Janice.

Since starting her campaign, Marley was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show on Feb. 3. During the show Ellen awarded her with a check for $10K right on the show.

Marley donated the $10K to GrassROOTS Community Foundation and Super Girls Camp to assist with the movement and continue her activations.

Since starting her campaign, she has also been featured on The Charlie Rose Show, CBS This Morning and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.

The widened publicity has helped Marley to collect 4,300 books as of press time.

Donations have come from social media, schools, teachers, parents, friends and publishing companies. Janice had so far logged in 700 independent titles.

Those books have been donated to the Henry C. Lea School in Philadelphia; 1,000 books to Speedway Academy in Newark; and books most recently to St. Cloud Elementary in West Orange, says Janice.

As far as future book drives, Marley plans on having an annual book drive. No dates have been confirmed at this time.

In the meantime, all new book donations can be sent to GrassROOTS Community Foundation: 59 Main Street Suite 323 West Orange, NJ 07052.

Marley says she aspires to “be a magazine editor of my own magazine. I like being the boss.”

She offers advice to others who would like to implement change.

“Don’t dwell on things that don’t make you happy,” says Marley. “Always look forward and always ask for help when you want to do something. Have fun with reading, don’t feel forced about reading, reading books is fun.  Read everything! No matter what age you are you can make a difference!”

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