Co-founded in December of 2014 by two queer women of color, the Radical Monarchs is an organization with troops akin to the Girl Scouts that are specifically designed for young girls of color. The group focuses on community organizing, advocacy work, and social justice. In advance of the POV documentary about the group, which will air and stream on PBS, I spoke with Radical Monarchs co-founders Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest to learn more about their organization.
Tagg: How did you come up with the idea for the Radical Monarchs?
Anayvette: When my daughter, Lupita, was in fourth grade, all of her classmates were joining a traditional local scouting troop, so naturally she wanted to join [but] when I looked at the composition of the group, [I realized that] she would have been one of two girls of color. And Lupita was raised in a family that was very social justice–minded, so I felt like that space wouldn’t speak to her. So I started to think about what it would look like to create a group that centered young girls of color and their experience where they could earn badges based on social justice movement work. I pitched the idea to my daughter, and she lit up. I knew I couldn’t do this by myself, so then I approached my best friend Marilyn Hollinquest and then we launched our group in December of 2014.
Tagg: What has the process for devising the Radical Monarchs curriculum been like?
Marilyn: We come up with the curriculum through a combination of things. One is what the Radical Monarchs are interested in. [Second], it’s very current events–based. So for instance, our first badge was the Black Lives Matter badge, and that came up because when we were founded, that was the time of Ferguson, and [the last] is just things that we think are important to have in their social justice toolkit.
Tagg: How did the documentary, We Are the Radical Monarchs, come about?
Marilyn: [Producer/Director] Linda Goldstein Knowlton approached us the second year of our inception. She saw an article about us and she was attracted by the word “radical,” and so she hit us up a couple of times via email. Initially, she said she wanted to film us for a year to show what it takes to start a movement [or] a non-profit, but that year actually ended up turning into three years of filming.
Tagg: Can you talk about where the Monarchs are since the documentary was filmed?
Anayvette: The documentary leaves off at Troop One’s graduation, and as you see in the documentary, we ended up launching a second troop after our first year of having Troop One. And so we have since graduated two troops and those Monarchs are now alumni and they are very much connected with us and still participate and engage in a lot of the work that we do with the younger, newer troops. Also, this last fall, we launched four new troops: two new troops here in Oakland, one in Richmond, and one in San Francisco, and we are definitely looking to launch more troops with more financial support and investment.
Tagg: What is something you’re each most proud of?
Marilyn: I think for me, one of the proudest moments was recently the alumni. Because of the recent murders of Black folks by the police, they decided they wanted to take action and organize. So they organized this really amazing vigil for Black women and families and they created a whole list of things that they wanted to do, and that was definitely self-initiated.
Anayvette: I would echo that. It’s now been five years since the inception and [I love] seeing their personal growth and development as these fierce, powerful, unstoppable young women. They’re all showing up in different ways in their communities, schools, neighborhoods, and families based on the growth they’ve done, from running to be student council presidents to doing local community mural projects here in Oakland to advocating for ethnic studies in their high schools.