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

Harvard student and activist Marley Dias wants young people to read banned books.

The 17-year-old founder of 1000 Black Girl Books spoke with In The Know at the 2020 MAKERS Conference. She discussed the dangers of banned books, the value of reading and why diverse characters matter. 

When Dias was 10, she launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks initiative in November 2015. She had the goal of collecting 1,000 books with Black female protagonists by February 2016. Since then, she has collected over 14,000 books and has been featured in Forbes, TIME and Ebony.  

Dias started the campaign when she began “noticing the lack of diversity within my fifth-grade classroom.” She complained to her mother about how the public school system hardly featured stories with Black girls in its assignments and had larger issues with diversity altogether. Her mom encouraged her to do something about it. 

“It really started the trajectory of not only a movement that has collected now 14,000 books for Black girls as the main characters and donated them, creating an online database,” Dias told In The Know. 

“But has also transformed into an initiative that helps and ensures that young people understand their ability to make change.”

Dias wants young people to be aware of the conscious and unconscious messages in the media we consume. 

“So as long as we have parents and educators that support kids in those efforts,” she said. “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.” 

With book bannings ramping up, Dias feels her generation faces a genuine threat. Mississippi recently banned books including Queer, There, & Everywhere by Sarah Prager, The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Eliminating stories with LGBT characters or that deal with social justice issues can have serious consequences. 

“As we censor these really valuable stories,” Dias said, “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.”

More from In The Know:

Models claim popular L.A. club turned them away because of their size

Leah Thomas is on a mission to raise awareness about how environmental injustice impacts black and brown communities

Apple's Developer Showcase highlights 5 Black app developers you should watch

Listen to the latest episode of our pop culture podcast, We Should Talk: