Marley Dias Is the 12-Year-Old Feminist You Need to Know
Most grown-ups could learn a thing or two from Marley Dias. The pint-sized feminist founded her own book drive, #1000BlackGirlBooks, which solicited novels featuring black girls as the protagonists, appeared on The Ellen Show, and interviewed former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—all at the ripe age of 11. Now a year older, Dias, who's named after the legendary Jamaican singer and political activist Bob Marley, has inked a book deal of her own with Scholastic. "People say, 'Dream big!'—but you have to think about the logistics," she recently said by phone. "It's not just coming up with a great idea, it's how you can sell or market or promote that great idea." Here, Dias gets candid about politics, social media, and, of course, literature.
What prompted you to start the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks?
Black girls weren't being reflected in the books we were assigned to read in my fifth-grade class. The ones we had were mostly about white boys and their dogs: the Shiloh series, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller. I thought they were great and I enjoyed them, but I had books about black girls and other diverse characters in my home, and I knew there were students who only got their books in school. I wanted to make sure everyone was getting the right resources.
Why did you decide to start the dialogue on Twitter?
I used to go to this camp called Super Camp, hosted by the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, which is my mother's foundation, and they teach you how to make your community a better place. I knew this was my time to do it, so we put some stuff up on the website, then Twitter started to pick it up, and black Twitter came in to support. Next thing I knew Fox 29 Philadelphia was calling, and then I got a laptop and $10,000 on The Ellen Show. The rest was history, as they say.
Did your parents instill a sense of political awareness at a young age?
I would definitely say yes. In my house, we say my mom's like Public Enemy and my dad's like De La Soul in the way that they act and think. My mom was born in Jamaica and has always been around a community of black people, so she encouraged me to get out and act. My dad, on the other hand, is from suburban Massachusetts, so he had not been around a lot of black people. The problems I was noticing affected him too.
What are some of your favorite books?
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia ($6; amazon.com), Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ($10; amazon.com), President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston ($6; amazon.com), and This Side of Home by Renée Watson ($11; amazon.com).
Can you share any details about your forthcoming book?
It's a guide for people ages 10 and up to take things that they like to do and combine social media, their community, their activities, and their school to help other people like them. I want to make sure people are able to take the things that they really like to do and identify the disparities and share their knowledge with others.
What news outlets do you read on a daily basis?
I got Snapchat in December, so I check that for news, and we watch CNN at school. I like NPR's podcasts because I can listen to those on the bus. I use YouTube all the time because there are new things happening every day. I'm a big fan of CrashCourse, the channel John Green started with his brother, Hank. I look at VICE sometimes, but it's not always the most appropriate.
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How else do you stay politically active?
My parents try to keep me as engaged as possible. My dad puts on 1010 WINS every morning.
What's your favorite social media platform: Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat?
I think Instagram is my favorite because you can post things that last longer. You can have longer videos and longer captions and instill these moments that live forever. My Snapchat is private and just for my friends.
Do you talk to your friends about politics?
I like to talk with my friends about it, but we're all informed in different ways. This is the first election that most of us can remember—when Obama was elected, we were four years old—so this is the first time we've ever had those types of conversations. For the most part, we're like, "Can you really believe this is happening?" From a kid's standpoint, the things that were said during the election are mean. To me, it's very upsetting. It didn't make sense to us that Hillary Clinton couldn't be president even though she won the popular vote. We try to stay chill at school because we can get in arguments. But I take it lightly compared to how I talk to my parents and my teachers.
Are your teachers always calling on you in class?
I am treated like everybody else. I try to share the most I can with my friends, but I also don't like explaining all the time. We have the kind of dynamic where it's like, "Marley knows stuff, but that doesn't make her better than anyone else." There's no hierarchy whatsoever.
How have your classmates reacted to your newfound fame?
Initially, I didn't want to tell them, but living two separate lives doesn't work. I want to tell them why I'm missing school. I want to talk to them when I'm feeling stressed. It's an open relationship.
Who are your political heroes?
Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, Elaine Browne, and obviously Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Every time someone pops up on my Instagram feed because they feel like they need to say something, they're my political hero in one way or another.
What was it like interviewing Hillary Clinton?
It was really cool. She has a lot of personality, and I got to ask questions she isn't asked a lot. I wanted to know her best friend from childhood and something embarrassing that happened to her in middle school. The interview was more about her as a person than as a political figure.
How did you assemble your professional wardrobe?
Fashion is very important to me. I dress androgynously—I absolutely despise dresses and skirts and tights—and I started wearing glasses in the third grade. Now I have nine pairs. I'm a kid, so I like to be as colorful and bright as I can.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.