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. ☀