It’s rare to find a child who loves the book assigned to them by their teacher. It’s either too old or boring or has nothing to do with the life the child is living. Enter stage right, ten-year old soon-to-be youth activist Marley Dias. She came home from school and lamented to her mother about having to read Where the Red Fern Grows for the second time in as many years. She was sick of reading books about white boys and their dogs.
Marley knew of the book’s place in literature as a “classic novel” but wanted to see herself and her own life experiences reflected in books she had to read. So began her quest to collect 1,000 books with black female protagonists, which she would then send to the school in Jamaica where her own mother attended as a child.
She surpassed 1,000 and then surpassed 10,000. Marley, with support from her mother and fellow activist Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, maintains a catalog of all books with black female leads. The webpage for 1,000 Black Girl Books is the perfect jumping-off point for finding resources on the topic and titles.
What I consider to be the best part of the story is Marley’s mom’s support. An activist herself, Dr. Johnson Dias didn’t feel the need to take over her daughter’s work. Instead, as she said in an interview with The Guardian, “The role of parents is to make space for their children’s real voice, even their mistakes.” THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the first step in supporting the teenager activist in your life.
Marley is now 14 years old and continues working with her campaign, sharing the stage with significant adult activists such as Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. Follow her on social media for continued inspiration.
How to support the young activist in your life:
- Actively listen to your teen. Don’t interject with examples of your own activism, or why you think their idea with fail. Really listen to them and encourage them to keep talking and brain-dumping until they’re empty.
- Ask if they’d like constructive feedback or a “yes person”.
If they ask for the latter, perhaps respond, “I don’t think I’m the right person for that, because support sometimes sounds like dissent or like I’m questioning/challenging you.”
If they ask for constructive feedback, give it.
- Don’t look at their idea from your cynical adult perspective. Instead, try to remember what it was like when you were a teen, filled with righteous indignation at the practice of adults making unilateral decisions for young people. Think, “What would teen me say?”
- Support them. Offer to drive them to a rally. Maybe match them with an organization already doing the work they’re interested in. Don’t scoff when they don’t seem to grasp the full picture, but be the devil’s advocate.
- TELL the teen when you’re being the devil’s advocate. You want to show you support them, but not blindly.
- Purchase resources for them. Books from other young activists such as Marley Dias or Malala, or follow the Twitter or Instagram profiles of Greta Thurnberg, Autumn Peltier, or Little Miss Flint. Here’s a guide from The Barefoot Mommy blog for young activists.
- YOU read and follow those young people as well. Read accounts from their parents and mentors to learn how they supported their teens in their activism.
Homework: Read my previous blog entry on supporting youth activists. How have you supported a teenager in their activism? Or, how were you a young activist?