Marley Dias with Anita Hill at the National Women's Law Center annual dinner

Ready or Not, Here Marley Dias Comes

Marley Dias rocked the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) Annual Awards Dinner Wednesday night.

Introduced by the legendary Anita Hill, the 11-year-old social activist and creator of the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign came onstage dancing to “Ready or Not” by The Fugees. Exuding a confidence and swag I didn’t even know was possible at such a young age, Marley spoke to MSNBC policy analyst Joy Reid about her activism, education, and dreams for the future. To say she stole the show would be an understatement.

Marley started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign because she didn’t see Black girls reflected in the books she was assigned for school. Not only were Black girls largely missing as characters, they were rarely featured as the protagonists. And, while Marley always had Black girl books at home, she knew not all kids have access to literature that reflects their experiences. She partnered with GrassROOTS Community Foundation to launch the #1000BlackGirlBooks drive in November 2015. Since then, she has collected over 7,000 books, well exceeding her campaign’s initial goal.

Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Vice President for Program at the NWLC, told attendees that the organization strives to put girls and women of color at the center of their work. By advocating for those who have been ignored and left out–of books, policy decisions, and leadership roles– Goss Graves says NWLC helps women and girls “realize their dreams and knock down barriers.” Marley’s story exemplifies this commitment.

Black girls are systematically pushed out, overpoliced, and underprotected in schools. Strict dress codes, attitude policing, insufficient sexual assault policies, the overuse of suspensions and expulsions, and overbearing police presence in schools unfairly affects Black girls in racialized and gendered ways. As honoree Monique Morris, author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, explained at the dinner, instead of leaving Black girls out of discussions around policing and criminalization, we need to center the victimization and trauma Black girls are experiencing in schools. Schools, Morris argued, should be locations for healing and learning, not discipline. Marley Dias’s project does just that: promoting healing and learning through books that show the complexity of Black girlhood and teach young Black girls that they, too, are worthy of being leaders and protagonists.

Honoree Joanne Smith, founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equity, told the crowd that the biggest barrier facing girls today is that they are seen as future women, not girls who can contribute to society now. Girls, she claimed, need to be centered and valued today, as they are. Marley is surely an example of all that young Black girls have to offer this country. I, for one, am glad that NWLC is celebrating the accomplishments and supporting the mission of such an extraordinary girl.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Marley responded: “Happy and healthy. I also want to be a magazine editor of my own magazine.” But Marley isn’t waiting to become a woman to live out her dreams. She is already the editor-in-chief of Marley Magazine, and has interviewed women such as Ava DuVernay and Hillary Clinton. Combining her passion of reading and writing, her belief in the power and magic of Black girls, and the need for more spaces designed with girls like her in mind, Marley is creating opportunities for other Black girls to lead and create. Happy and healthy, confident and brave, passionate and talented, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Marley becomes the protagonist of one the books she’s collecting.

Header image via Instagram

Durham, NC

Barbara is a PhD student in Religious Studies at The University of North Carolina and the co-founder of The Not So Ivory Tower, a blog by and for women of color in academia. She writes about immigration, transnational social movements, and Latinx feminisms. You can peep her work on The Huffington Post, Latina, Vivala, Latino Rebels, and xoJane.

Barbara is a PhD student at UNC. She writes about immigration, transnational social movements, and Latinx feminisms.

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