How One NJ Teen Collected 14K Books With Black Girl Protagonists

At 11, Marley Dias led a viral collection of books featuring Black girls as the protagonists. She's now a Harvard freshman—and the drive is still going strong.

Portrait of Marley Dias

Now a freshman a Harvard, Marley Dias, 19, has collected more than 14,000 books with a Black girl as the protagonist. Photo courtesy of Andrea Cipriani Mecchi

Kudos for the longest book drive ever go to Marley Dias.

In November 2015, as a pre-teen, this West Orange resident made an offhand remark to her mom about how few books she read in school that featured Black girls as the protagonist. In response to Marley’s  frequently quoted remark, “I’m tired of reading books about white boys and their dogs,” Marley’s mom, Janice Johnson Dias, who runs a public health and social action nonprofit, challenged her with, “What are you going to do about it?” 

What she did was set an ambitious goal to collect 1,000 books featuring Black girls by February 2016. Marley’s efforts went viral, and she neatly exceeded her goal. Today, thanks to her website, the initiative has collected more than 14,000 books, helping her land a spot in New Jersey Monthly’s Book of Records.

Distributed to community groups and schools, Marley explains, “We want them to go where they can have the most impact. In a community educational space, more than 30 kids may read each book, and students will have the benefit of reading the books with teachers and educators who understand the importance of racial identity, diversity and inclusion.”

A young Marley Dias stands surrounded by piles of books

Marley Dias kicked off her campaign in 2015. Photo courtesy of Erin O’Brien

Fast-forward to 2023, 19-year-old Marley is now a freshman at Harvard. She has spoken at the White House, was named one of the nation’s most influential teens by Time in 2018, and was the youngest honoree on Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list that same year.

In 2020, she hosted Bookmarks, a Netflix children’s show where celebrities read books by Black authors. This year, she served as the first guest editor for an online magazine called Feminist.

A published author, her book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! (Scholastic 2018) is a guide to inspire other young people find their voices to make changes in their communities.

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