I can’t recall how many years ago I was first introduced to the Radical Monarchs, then Radical Brownies, but I do know that within seconds, I was hooked! Growing up as a tween on the South Side of Chicago in the early 90’s, I had a wide range of activities to cultivate my curiosity and essentially keep me busy (e.g. karate, modern ballet – at which I failed horribly, and Girl Scouts.) However, a key element that was always missing was how *I*, an active and brilliant Blackgirl, could use my voice to speak to injustices and challenge oppressive structures. Fast forward to college where I began to formally engage with creative writing and poetry, even more Black Studies, Education, and program development for Blackgirls. Amid this work as a faculty member and social justice Educator, I discovered Radical Monarchs and a bright lightbulb floated to my 12-year old self! The spectrum of brown berets and chants of these beautiful Oakland girls reminded me more of Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver, and Angela Davis, than of Kristy, Mary Ann and Claudia (Babysitter’s Club, which largely shaped my sense of girl/youth organizing.)
It’s hard not to tear up watching We Are the Radical Monarchs. The hateful misinformation from conservative media and trolls is beyond triggering, but also necessary to understand why the Monarchs exist and why they persist. To be told that these girls should instead learn leadership, friendship, or even sow or focus on survival skills, dismisses the fact that is exactly what Radical Monarchs is doing. Nevertheless, most of the tears I had watching this were of joy! The moments where the girls sit under a tree and talk with Cheryl Dawson, their speech on the Representatives floor to speak for the Renter Protection Act in Oakland, the new troop moving through the first unit on Black Lives Matter, or them walking toward the state capital for their Radical Advocacy activity and one of the girls says, “I was meant to be here” are intensely moving.
What Anayvette and Marilyn have planted as racially and ethnically rich activists, queer, West Coast, other/mothers, is a global model that doesn’t need to be scaled up as much as it should be meaningfully rooted any/everywhere there is a cry for humanity and justice. This documentary allows us to follow their work in intimate partnerships with mothers, fathers, elders, businesses, coalitions, and long-standing institutions to serve Black and Brown girls. They freely share the fruits of this journey, as well as the intense labor to balance strategic planning, securing funding, building charters, training troop leaders, working 60+ hour weeks for “bread and butter,” being laid off, providing basic needs for self/family, and to celebrate.
I loved every moment of the girls asking impactful questions and the scaffolding provided by the founders and troop leaders is both difficult and remarkable. The girls are vulnerable and engender healing and note that they too serve as role models for one another. As they collectively move through marches, camping, workshops, neighborhoods, it’s heart-affirming to see their braids, locs, 4c twists, ponytails, and puffs as they articulate the ways they ‘step into their power.’ The documentary is well crafted with juxtapositions of sound clips that inform the audience of what is happening around the world, which are meaningfully incorporated into the learning units for the Monarchs: #sayhername, disability justice, immigration rights, consent, gender and body affirmation, to name a few. Additionally, we witness them build interviewing, assessing, organizing and entrepreneurship skills to further assert their autonomy. The video opens with the girls providing their definitions of “radical” and the first one states: “radical means just being yourself.” In this way, we get to see dozens of girls and women, just being themselves in the most liberatory ways possible and this reimaging of self – and society – is immeasurable.
We Are the Radical Monarchs is a beautiful homage to what it means to love holistically, grow agency, work from ancestral knowledge, and act/teach as a co-conspirator. Distributed by Bullfrog Films.