The following is a reprint from the Spring 2015 issue of Ms. Click here to get your copy!
They are not your mother’s Brownies.
Oakland’s Radical Brownies —now known as the Radical Monarchs—are a revolutionary twist on the traditional girls club (though they’re not affiliated with Girl Scouts of the USA). Sporting brown berets in homage to the 1960s activist groups the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers, the Radical Monarchs provide a safe place for young girls of color, ages 8 through 12, to explore social-justice issues affecting racially diverse communities in the United States.
The idea for the Radical Monarchs, so far numbering 12 girls, began to bake late last year as organizers Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest grew increasingly concerned about the limited opportunities available to young girls of color—including Martinez’s daughter, Lupita—to discuss issues affecting them and to champion change in their communities.
“Our inspiration is seeing the need for it,” says Hollinquest. “[Growing up] we wish we would’ve had a group like this that…was social-justice-focused and that centered our identities.”
In the months since its inception, the troop has earned badges by participating in protests (the “Black Lives Matter” badge was earned for attending a civil rights march in Oakland), challenging antiquated beauty ideals and standards (“Radical Beauty”) and by practicing acceptance of all people (“LGBT Ally”). In celebration of Valentine’s Day, they practiced “Radical Love” by reading bell hooks and writing kind notes to themselves and their fellow Monarchs. In March, they attended the 30th annual Empowering Women of Color Conference at the University of California, Berkeley, and wrote letters of support to Nicoll Hernandez- Polanco, a Guatemalan transgender woman detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
There is no denying the power of girls clubs like the Radical Monarchs or the Girl Scouts to cultivate social consciousness and diversity and effect change. Though founded as an all-white organization in 1912, the Girl Scouts welcomed its first African American members just five years later. More troops followed, and by the 1920s the Girl Scouts boasted a Native American chapter and a Mexican American chapter as well. In the early 1930s, the first African American Dixie troop was introduced in the South, and in 1956, impressed by the Girl Scouts’ progressive values and commitment to diversify, Martin Luther King Jr. named the organization “a force for desegregation.”
Despite suffering some harsh criticism from conservative media and having to change their original Brownies moniker at the behest of the Girl Scouts, Martinez and Hollinquest hope to expand the Radical Monarchs to include girls of all races and cultural backgrounds in multiple chapters across the country, while maintaining its primary focus on girls of color and issues of social justice.
“We want to cultivate awesome, rad women…to give them the tools [to] not mask their brilliance and their power and their worth,” says Hollinquest. “Imagine if no woman ever again had to do that. …You could just be your fierce 8-year-old self and keep that going as you mature into womanhood.”
It looks like the Radical Monarchs are well on their way to earning their badges in Awesomeness.
Photo courtesy of the Radical Monarchs
Kitty Lindsay is a former Ms. intern and an employee of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @KittyLindsayLA