Marley Dias is like a lot of 11-year-old girls in West Orange, New Jersey. She loves getting lost in a book. But the books she was reading at school were missing something. She enjoyed Where the Red Fern Grows and the Shiloh series, but those classics, found in so many classrooms, were all about white boys or dogs. Black girls, like Marley, were almost never the main character.
When Marley described this problem to her mother, her mom asked: “So, what are you going to do about it?” Marley thought about her mom’s question and last fall, set a goal of collecting 1,000 books about black girls by the beginning of February. With this goal, #1000blackgirlbooks was born. Marley has far surpassed her goal, collecting more than 4,000 books so far!
A mere 3,500 miles south of West Orange, New Jersey a group of Guatemalan teens sits in a circle, discussing how difficult it is for children in their town to access any kind of story book. Like Marley’s mom, Reading Village’s community facilitator asks what we refer to as the power question: “What are you going to do about it?” It’s a question that invites teens to discover their personal convictions, to explore their personal responsibility, and to initiate change. It invites the teens to claim their power, just as Marley claimed hers.
A few months later, six homes made of cinder block and corrugated metal , each in a different neighborhood , were operating as “story book centers” – a fancy way to describe a big plastic tub filled with books and a check-out log. The teens are still working out the kinks in the system but they had essentially invented their town’s first book lending network. In communities with crippled education systems, where families are too poor to afford even one book, this network changes everything!
The power question is just one way in which we work very intentionally with our youth leaders to help them change the way they see their communities and themselves. But it also represents our deeper belief that the best way to develop young people is to help them discover what they are capable of, even before they themselves realize it.
By: Larry Dressler – Founding Board Member, Reading Village