Rescue people in another galaxy? Escape from a tower with a dragon’s help? Visit England, China, and India, and still be back for dinnertime?
That’s all in a day’s read for 11-year-old Marley Dias, who was featured in TODAY’s “Can-Do Kids” series on Tuesday.
“When I get lost in a book, it’s just, like, magical!” Dias told TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager.
The New Jersey sixth grader’s love for reading was profound but not blind. After spending years of her life stepping into new worlds with every turn of a page, she noticed a common theme she felt needed to be addressed.
“All of the books that I was reading had white boys and dogs as the main character, and I was pretty sick of it,” Dias said. “I’m pretty sure my other classmates were too, but I was just the one to speak up about it.”
With the help of her mom, Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, the 11-year-old took action, in the form of a hashtag.
The campaign, #1000BlackGirlBooks, was designed with the goal of collecting 1,000 books featuring black girls as the protagonists that would then be donated to schools and libraries. About 7,000 books later not only did Dias surpass her goal, but she started a conversation that she hopes to continue with kids across the country.
“I want them to understand that these voices matter and that there’s not just one experience that people can learn from,” Dias said.
Dias and her mother brought 1,600 books to her mother’s former school in Jamaica last March. What the pair discovered is this was not a “Marley issue,” or something isolated to “one little back girl.” Johnson Dias, who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Temple University, realized it wasn’t until college that she even read a book with a main character that looked like her.
Dias took to The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore in February to share her passion for the project. She also visited The Ellen DeGeneres Show and was presented with a laptop computer as well as a $10,000 check from Shutterfly to reach her goal.
Dias told Ellen she “loves being the boss” and wants to be an editor for her own magazine one day.
Until then, Dias is joining forces with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African and the Department of Education for a summer book tour. She will also deliver the keynote at the New York State Council of School Superintendents summit in the fall.