West Orange’s Marley Dias takes the world by storm

Photo Courtesy of Buck Ennis
Age is just a number and Marley Dias proves every day that young people can do great things. Above, Marley promotes her first book, ‘Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!’ Dias is the founder of the ‘1,000 Black Girl Books’ movement.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — In November 2015, Marley Dias decided that she’d had enough of the books she was reading because she wasn’t seeing any about people who looked like her. So she started the “1,000 Black Girl Books” movement, to collect and donate books that featured black and minority characters. Approximately two years and 11,000 books later, Marley, who just turned 13, has written a book of her own. “Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!” is set to be released by Scholastic on Jan. 30, and Marley is ready to get to the heart of how young people can make an impact on their communities and on the world.

“It’s basically a guide for kids who are 10 and up about how to find their passion,” the Roosevelt Middle School eighth-grader said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Jan. 6. “Like what I did with ‘1,000 Black Girl Books,’ (because) black girls weren’t being reflected. It’s trying to give the active steps to do something like that.”

This has taken Marley on a journey across the country, where she has received several awards, including being named to the Forbes 2018 “30 Under 30” list, an honor given to 30 people under the age of 30 in 20 different categories who are “challenging the conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation,” according to forbes.com. Marley was named to the list in the “youngest” category.

She also a received an American Ingenuity Award, given by Smithsonian Magazine, and was a featured speaker at the Teen Vogue Awards in early December alongside Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Handler and actress Yara Shahidi.

Yet, according to Marley, all these achievements were still not enough to justify a memoir.

“When we were trying to figure out what the book would be, we thought maybe it could be a memoir,” she said. “But I’m only 13. So it didn’t make sense.”

The book is what she called “magazine-style,” with a lot of pictures and colors. It’s designed so that both children and parents alike can enjoy, and the chapters don’t have to be read in order.

“I wanted it to look like a magazine because some people don’t really like reading, and having pictures makes it more fun to look at,” Marley said. “I also wanted to show that seeing yourself matters. Showing kids that their causes are important and they can do things like I did was important.”

The weight of what she has achieved is not lost on Marley, and she described the “30 Under 30” recognition as “super mind-blowing.” Being around the other honorees was an experience all on its own for her.

“I’m usually the youngest person there, and I was amazed to see the work that I was doing was around the others,” she said. “I didn’t realize how many people whose content I watch or whose products I use were there. You can use those resources to meet your goals.”

Watching his daughter meet her goals has been exciting for her parents, Scott Dias told the West Orange Chronicle in a Jan. 6 interview.

“It’s been great as a parent to see her identify something that she’s passionate about, and create goals and achieve them,” he said.

According to Scott Dias, the ideas and plans are all his daughter’s — he and his wife, Janice Johnson, just guide her through them.

“I think for us, she’s had these ideas and we’ve just presented them to her and guided her along,” he said. “We focus on being parents. She’s been pretty grounded too, which has been helpful with the spotlight that has come with it. If it’s something she’s passionate about, we’ll encourage it.”

Marley credits her parents with helping her as much as they credi her for her ideas; she said they pushed her to continue collecting books.

“My parents have pushed me to do what’s best and make sure I have a reason behind it,” she said. “When we only had 100 books collected and still needed 900 with only three weeks to go, they didn’t tell me to quit.”

And she’s still not ready to quit. Leading up to the release of her book, Marley is looking to create a “1,000 Black Girl Books” book club in order have the donated books discussed in schools and among those who read them.

“It could be used as a resource across the country,” Marley said. “It can share the message that I have and show the passions of others.”