Girls Stepping into Their Power: An Interview with Co-Founder of Radical Monarchs

By Andrea Gutierrez

» Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in make/shift (Summer/Fall 2015, no. 17)


In 2014, Anayvette Martinez’s daugh­ter, a fifth-grad­er, begged to join a girls group like the Girl Scouts. Mar­tinez, a Bay Area activist and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er, was dis­sat­is­fied with the options avail­able near her East Oak­land home and co-found­ed the Rad­i­cal Brown­ies with her friend and fel­low activist Mar­i­lyn Hollinquest. The mis­sion of the group was to “empow­er young girls of col­or so that they step into their col­lec­tive pow­er, bril­liance, and lead­er­ship in order to make the world a more rad­i­cal place.” The girls , rang­ing from sev­en to eleven years old, are class­mates and friends of Martinez’s daugh­ter and reflect the demo­graph­ics of their neighborhood—primarily Black and Lati­no fam­i­lies.

The troop formed in Decem­ber 2014, in time to par­tic­i­pate in their first march in sup­port of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, which led to their first badge of the same name. A month lat­er, news arti­cles about the Rad­i­cal Brown­ies spread through­out social media, cre­at­ing an unex­pect­ed amount of buzz around a project that Mar­tinez and Hollinquest were just get­ting off the ground. In Feb­ru­ary 2015, the Girl Scouts of the USA, cit­ing their trade­mark on the name Brown­ies, asked the group to change their name. On April 4, 2015, the Rad­i­cal Brown­ies announced that they had cho­sen the name Rad­i­cal Mon­archs. I spoke to Anayvette Mar­tinez on the eve of this announce­ment.

AG: You’re in the mid­dle of a renam­ing process. For the girls, there’s some­thing very pow­er­ful in this.

AM: Yeah, total­ly. Ini­tial­ly, I had just cho­sen a name. I nev­er thought it would become an issue because I didn’t think it was going to blow up to this mag­ni­tude. When it did blow up, the Girl Scouts of the USA reached out to us, and we knew we had to change it. It’s cool that the girls got to be a part of cre­at­ing the new name. It cre­ates a lit­tle more invest­ment on their part—“Hey, we named our­selves!” That’s excit­ing.

What has the impact of the group been on the girls so far? How have you seen them grow in these three and a half months of the group’s exis­tence?

These girls were already pow­er­ful on their own. Each of them had a strong sense of self. But this expe­ri­ence has real­ly enabled them to form a pow­er­ful shared iden­ti­ty with each oth­er. They con­nect with each oth­er and their expe­ri­ences as young girls of col­or grow­ing up in Oak­land, in an urban city. They are girls step­ping into their power—using their voic­es more. Even the ones who were a bit shy at first start­ed com­ing out of their shell.

You start­ed out with a six-month plan and cur­ricu­lum for earn­ing badges. what does it take to earn a badge and what has been the lev­el of input from the girls them­selves?

When we first launched, we brain­stormed with the girls about themes and top­ics that inter­est­ed them. We used that as a com­pass to inform the cur­ricu­lum. For exam­ple, one of the girls want­ed to know how to nav­i­gate friend­ship dra­ma, so we fold­ed that into Rad­i­cal Love, a sub-unit of the Rad­i­cal Beau­ty badge. Why is it impor­tant to love your­self? What does it mean to have rad­i­cal friend­ships? How do you have healthy friend­ships and rela­tion­ships?

In terms of themes, we start­ed with Black Lives Mat­ter. Fol­low­ing that was Rad­i­cal Beau­ty. Right now we’re in Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice, which we’re call­ing Pachama­ma Jus­tice. Fol­low­ing this we’re going to do a Pride unit, which will be focused on LGBT and gen­der non­con­for­mi­ty. They’ll learn about that com­mu­ni­ty and par­tic­i­pate in the trans march here in the Bay Area, among oth­er activ­i­ties. In July, the girls will earn a camp­ing badge. In August or Sep­tem­ber, maybe some­thing around self-defense and con­sent. It’s all activ­i­ty-based learn­ing, project-based learn­ing, expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing. That just comes from our back­ground as youth pro­gram­mers.

What have the girls got­ten excit­ed about?

They’ve loved every­thing. They loved being a part of the Black Lives Mat­ter march­es. That was real­ly pow­er­ful for them. They real­ly enjoyed hold­ing the signs and hav­ing our voic­es heard and chant­i­ng. They love that. They loved Rad­i­cal Beau­ty. We talked about con­sumerism, how the media tries to sell us things to fix our­selves. But that we’re beau­ti­ful, and we’re per­fect the way we are. They loved talk­ing about what they see in media. They had this whole dis­cus­sion about the Dis­ney princess­es. They loved mak­ing beau­ty prod­ucts. They loved the Rad­i­cal Love unit and talk­ing about lov­ing them­selves. Part one of our Envi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice unit we did a hike. We part­nered with a local orga­ni­za­tion called Out­door Afro. They loved the hike, loved being in the out­doors togeth­er. They real­ly enjoyed every­thing.

We took them to the UC Berke­ley Empow­er­ing Women of Col­or Con­fer­ence. They loved that. Some of them had been to UC Berke­ley, some of them hadn’t. That may have been chal­leng­ing for them to sit in an audi­to­ri­um and just lis­ten to three keynote speakers—the girls are ages sev­en to eleven—but they were engaged and they took away so much from that con­ver­sa­tion. It was incred­i­ble.

We’re doing a clean-up in East Oak­land dur­ing our upcom­ing meet­ing. I’m not sure how much fun they’ll have with that, clean­ing up trash. But we think it’s impor­tant to con­nect per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to tak­ing care of our ’hoods.

Count­less peo­ple have asked about expan­sion, but you have been adamant that you want to nur­ture the troop you already have before you con­sid­er growth. what is your vision for the future of this rad­i­cal girls group?

This is our incu­ba­tion year. We’re in the process of apply­ing for fis­cal spon­sor­ship, which would allow us to build our capac­i­ty. Once we have that in place, we want to cre­ate some­thing sus­tain­able. Because the oth­er co-founder [Mar­i­lyn Hollinquest] and I have expe­ri­ence in non­prof­its and pro­gram­ming, we don’t want to move too fast and have some­thing that is com­plete­ly unsus­tain­able for us and the com­mu­ni­ty.

This is not our full-time job. Mar­i­lyn hus­tles three jobs. I have a very demand­ing full-time job and a fam­i­ly. It’s a lot, and this requires a lot of atten­tion to nur­ture and build. With fis­cal spon­sor­ship, we could apply for fund­ing, then maybe we could step away from our full-time jobs and real­ly focus on this because this is what we real­ly feel pas­sion­ate about, and we want to respond to need. We want to do that in this first year, so that with­in the next year, we’re in a place where we can start pack­ag­ing our cur­ricu­lum and cre­at­ing train­ing for poten­tial troop lead­ers.

Being inten­tion­al is at the core of how we work and how we do this work. We want to sup­port the cre­ation of more troops wher­ev­er they’re need­ed, wher­ev­er they’re want­ed. But they need to be set up for suc­cess and with a com­mon thread of val­ues, so when some­one says they’re part of the Rad­i­cal Mon­archs, you know you’re com­ing with these val­ues, this train­ing, these resources. That’s impor­tant to us. These are young peo­ple, these are young lives, and we want to make sure that who­ev­er is going to be tak­ing on this under­tak­ing and join­ing this move­ment with us is real­ly root­ed and ground­ed in that. We don’t want any­one to start a troop and com­plete­ly flop and leave these girls hang­ing. That’s part of why we’re going so slow.

And it’s hard, because every­one just wants it now. It’s hard to say no, which is very gen­dered, espe­cial­ly for women of col­or. We’re used to say­ing yes to every­thing. We’re the nur­tur­ers, the providers. It’s def­i­nite­ly chal­lenged us to set that bound­ary, but we are stick­ing to it.

You’ve got­ten some back­lash. and it’s not just the pre­dictable quar­ters, like the Sean Han­ni­tys of the world. it’s also peo­ple who con­sid­er them­selves lib­er­al or fem­i­nist, who think that this group is a knock on the Girl Scouts. one com­ment i heard is, “well, you can do that in Girl Scouts, too.” as in, you don’t have to cre­ate your own group, like there’s not enough room for anoth­er group. what’s it been like to hear that part of the con­ver­sa­tion?

I think that’s an inter­est­ing cri­tique. For us, this is not about exclu­sion. This is about inclu­sion. I hate scarci­ty pol­i­tics. There’s enough for every­one here. Any group that has been work­ing with young women, women of color—that space is need­ed. It’s not about exclud­ing any­one or cre­at­ing divi­sion. The more spaces we have like this, the bet­ter. Spaces that are spe­cif­ic to a cer­tain group are need­ed. Girls of col­or do some­times need that space to be with each oth­er and talk about issues that are impact­ing them, because their expe­ri­ences are not often reflect­ed in main­stream media or exter­nal con­ver­sa­tions. It’s an impor­tant space to cre­ate. The Girl Scout troops that are doing this type of work—I think that’s fan­tas­tic. But we saw the need to cre­ate some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. I think this space is just as jus­ti­fied as the more main­stream, tra­di­tion­al scouts is.

The sim­ple act of rec­og­niz­ing the unique expe­ri­ence of being a girl of color—that it’s a part of their lives, not white­wash­ing it or being “col­or­blind” about it—is what i think a lot of crit­ics take issue with, which tells you a lot about them and what their val­ues are for girls groups.

Right. And we don’t live in a col­or­blind soci­ety. We need to stop pre­tend­ing that we do, because we don’t. This is real. Race is real. Gen­der is real. Gen­der iden­ti­ty, gen­der expres­sion are very real things. Yes, these are all social con­struc­tions, but there are real impacts. We feel those impacts. so it does no one a ser­vice to ignore it, to pre­tend like we’re all the same and we all expe­ri­ence the same things, because we don’t. Girls and youth also know that. And it’s just a mat­ter of pro­vid­ing them the safe space to be able to process and artic­u­late that.

What advice do you have for any­one else out there excit­ed about this rad­i­cal group and what they can do in their own com­mu­ni­ties or with their own girls?

This move­ment is big­ger than us. This space is need­ed. It’s so pow­er­ful. What this expe­ri­ence has been for young girls is amaz­ing, to watch them go through this process. It’s def­i­nite­ly felt heal­ing to us, as grown women of col­or. My co-founder and I went through this in col­lege. so what does it mean for a sev­en-year-old to start going through this process of affirm­ing and val­i­dat­ing and empow­er­ing her voice now? That’s just so pow­er­ful.

Peo­ple who feel inspired or called to do it—I urge them to do it, urge them to con­nect with us. If they want to start some­thing now and join us lat­er when we’re ready, there are a cou­ple of local folks who are actu­al­ly doing that now. They feel the sense of urgency. So do it. Do it.

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