Arts & Entertainment

13-Year-Old West Orange Author Speaks at Book Signing 

Marley Dias with (L-R) teacher Robin Berkowitz, West Orange Board of Education President Sandra Mordecai, Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky, WOBOE member Mark Robertson and Lionel Hush, principal of RMS. Credits: Alan Grossman
Marley Dias is interviewed by, from left, Tammy Williams, chairwoman of WOHRC, and Susan Anderson, public information officer for West Orange. Credits: Alan Grossman
Eric Price, principal of the St. Cloud Elementary School, said it was wonderful to watch Marley speaking recently on CBS News about the empowerment of black girls. Credits: Alan Grossman
Marley’s mom, Janice Johnson Dias, says she is proud that her daughter is a change-agent in the community. Credits: Alan Grossman

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Not many 13 year olds can say they have started a social movement, but Marley Dias, a student at the Roosevelt Middle School (RMS) in West Orange, is one who can. Dias spoke about her founding of #1000BlackGirlsBooks, and her critically acclaimed book “Marley Dias Gets It Done—And So Can You” at a West Orange Human Relations Commission (WOHRC) event on Thursday at RMS.

WOHRC chairwoman Tammy Williams and Susan Anderson, public information officer for West Orange, interviewed Dias, whose nationwide following grew after her appearance on the View. Dias she created the #1000BlackGirlsBooks concept because “black girls did not see their lives in the books they were reading at school.”

She set the goal of collecting 1,000 books that reflect strong, intelligent, beautiful and powerful black girls, and now she has surpassed 11,000 books with black girls featured as the main characters. Along with donating these books to the St. Cloud Elementary School in West Orange, Marley has donated books around the world—from Jamaica to Ghana.

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One of the messages in her book is for kids to activate themselves in community matters, and for a young person to become an “up-stander.” She said one of the ways to take on this role is for a kid to speak out when they can help in a situation where another child is being bullied.

Although she is a voracious reader, Dias said that many kids do not find reading enjoyable and need encouragement from their parents. She said one of the mistakes that parents make is sending their child to their room to read as a punishment for not behaving well.

Dias urged parents to make reading a fun activity for children. Two suggestions she made were for the parents and children to frequently read together, and for children to first watch a movie of a book the parents think they will enjoy reading.

When asked about how other kids her age can become as energetic and optimistic as she is, Dias said it is important to enjoy the little successes in life. She said kids should feel proud of themselves, even for completing simple tasks like homework well. She added that even when kids are feeling down, as she felt at times when her book campaign had some bumps along the road, that the important thing is keep on going.

Dias said that the purpose of the book campaign was not to make money, but to “fulfill a message and change the system.”

“One of the real joys of doing the book campaign is getting to know more kids by visiting more schools,” she said.

RMS Principal Lionel Hush said that Dias is “a role model to young men and women, as well as adults”

“She shows us the power of one,” he said.

Dias’ love of reading and research work was attested to by her third-grade teacher, Robin Berkowitz, and Faith Boyle, head of youth services at the West Orange Public Library (WOPL).

“Marley is an amazing student,” said Berkowitz. “Even in third grade, she was doing research work at a high level.”

Boyle said that Dias made her even more aware of trying to recommend books to children that will reflect their own lives.

“Marley really spearheaded a movement, and started something outstanding,” said Boyle. “I am confident she will keep it going.”

Dias’ mother, Janice Johnson Dias, president of the GrassROOTS Community Foundation, thanked all the West Orange schools and the WOPL that have helped her daughter reach her fullest potential.

Johnson Dias called her daughter “a citizen of the world” who loves people of all backgrounds.

“She is a dream realized,” said Johnson Dias. 

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