Conversations for Change: #1000BlackGirlBooks Creator Marley Dias Shares Her Story With American Girl

Marley Dias
Marley Dias
Screenshot: NowThis (Screenshot)

If you’ve ever had a conversation with Marley Dias, you know she’s wise beyond her years. We had the pleasure of doing so last fall for The Root Presents: It’s Lit! podcast, and we were in awe of Dias’ poise and self-awareness—though maybe we shouldn’t have been, given that the 2019 Young Futurist has also hosted a show for Netflix, Bookmarks.

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Now 16 years old (!), the confident and charismatic young thought leader is teaming with a “beloved brand known for helping girls grow up with confidence and character,” American Girl, helping to launch a new platform called Conversations for Change. Per a press release from the brand:

The digital platform will highlight various female trailblazers who share their unique stories and perspectives to help foster empathy, equality, and respect—while inspiring others to share their voices for good, too...The first episode, 4 Generations of Black Voices, features Marley Dias, youth activist and author; Paris Williams, Paris Cares Foundation, along with her mom and educator Alicia Marshall; plus, writer and American Girl author Denise Lewis Patrick. These advocates for change are working hard to ensure Black stories and Black voices are seen, heard, and valued.

“For 35 years, American Girl has created timeless stories and diverse characters who show girls how to change the world with courage, resilience, and kindness”, said Jamie Cygielman, General Manager of American Girl, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mattel. “Through this new platform, we’re excited to give real girls the opportunity to share how their stories—and actions—are sparking meaningful conversations and positive change. We hope these stories inspire others to get involved and make a difference.”

To that end, in celebration of its 35th birthday, American Girl is making its stories written by Black women and featuring Black heroines available to download via its free online library. Additionally, the brand has donated $500,000 in these and other titles to schools and libraries across the country. And as always, “the brand continues to offer a diverse range of dolls to celebrate all girls and what makes them unique,” American Girl reminds us, noting its Truly Me signature dolls are available “in a variety of skin tones, eye colors, hair styles and textures.” Additionally, its Create Your Own dolls offer infinite combinations of customizable options.

Illustration for article titled Conversations for Change: #1000BlackGirlBooks Creator Marley Dias Shares Her Story With American Girl
Photo: American Girl

Refreshingly, this new initiative isn’t exclusive to Black History Month; American Girl’s Conversations for Change series will continue throughout 2021, partnering with mobile news brand NowThis to produce videos accompanied by letters and advice from other young leaders on timely topics.

Per American Girl (synopsized):

  • Climate Change: Airing this April, American Girl will spotlight several young girls who are taking big steps to help stop climate change. From how to make environmental changes at home to understanding how climate change impacts marginalized communities, these girls have something important to say about living an Earth-friendly life.
  • Go for Your Goals: This summer, several Team USA athletes will share their stories about how they’ve pushed past remarkable challenges, doubts, and setbacks to bring their dreams to life. Their stories prove that we’re all capable of doing extraordinary things if we work hard, dare to lead, and support one another.
  • Breaking Barriers: Slated to air in fall 2021, this episode features amazing young women who share their wisdom about the power that comes from accepting yourself and others; how to combine your passion with your activism; and how to make a difference in your community.
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Penning a letter to the American Girl Community, Dias shared her own story which began five years ago today when the Philly Voice ran an article about her then-burgeoning campaign—and made the initiative and its creator a viral sensation.

“I was only 11 years old, and admittedly I didn’t know what this spotlight would mean for my life,” she said, later adding:

Looking back now, I realize that I was almost numb to the experience. I focused on making sure that the world understood racial and gender exclusion issues that I didn’t take any time to enjoy these special moments. While I wish I had soaked up more of the perks along the way, I am proud of my unrelenting focus and hard work. I want our society to see, hear, and value those often excluded, starting with girls like me. I began by aiming to collect 1,000 books where Black girls were the main character because I am a Black girl, and I knew what exclusion felt for Black girls. I always try my best to be clear that I want us to create space for ALL of us, that’s why I support campaigns led by other kids with entirely different experiences than mine...I have now collected over 13,000 books where Black girls are the main character. With the right encouragement and resources, a story of activism like mine will become the norm rather than an exception.

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Indeed, Dias has keeping busy amid the pandemic. In addition to school and her partnership with American Girl, this month she also partnered with Rebel Girls to narrate the biography of Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to desegregate an elementary school in Louisiana in 1960, for Rebel Girls’ Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls Podcast Series.

“Ruby’s bravery in the face of immense bigotry helped further the cause of equal access to education!” says the brand. “Now, young children can learn about her in an easy, accessible format.”

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Once again, Dias is among a group of dynamic female forces narrating this podcast series, including activist & Founder of the Me Too Movement Tarana Burke (Harriet Tubman); Poorna Jagnnathan (Madam C.J. Walker); D’atra “Dee Dee” Jackson (Sojourner Truth) and Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi (Miriam Makeba).

Illustration for article titled Conversations for Change: #1000BlackGirlBooks Creator Marley Dias Shares Her Story With American Girl
Image: Rebel Girls
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Whether in conversation about her own story or helping to amplify the stories of the incredible women who came before, Marley Dias continues to grow into quite the inspiring role model—but will always be one of our favorite American girls.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

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