The Radical Brownies aren't Girl Scouts -- they're way more hardcore.
The troop consists of 12 girls between the ages of 8 and 11 who earn badges for completing lessons and activism related to social justice in Oakland, California. Since forming 3 short months ago, they’ve already gotten a whole lot of media attention, namely over the badges they earned participating in the Black Lives Matter movement.
They’re also earning badges for things like “LGBTQ Ally,” “Radical Self-Love,” and through discussions about topics like how Disney princesses define girls’ image of beauty and self-esteem.
We sat down with Radical Brownies co-founder Anayvette Martinez to talk about scouting, who’s making those sweet badges, and what’s next for the troop now that they’re kind of a big deal.
MTV: What gave you the idea for the group?
Anayvette Martinez: My daughter was in 4th grade last year and she really wanted to join a girls’ group. When I looked at what was out there, I just felt like something was missing.
I thought about what would it be like to have a girls’ group that really spoke to her experience as a young girl of color, and spoke to social justice. Social justice is something we’re really passionate about as a family. And I thought, 'How cool would it be if she could even earn badges related to those topics and those themes?'
I shared the idea with my daughter and she got really excited -- she just totally lit up. She was like, “Mommy, I love it! Can we do it?”
We’re really busy, so months went by, but she never forgot. She kept saying, “Mommy, what about the idea for the Radical Brownies?” I knew I couldn’t do it on my own -- I already have a really busy, crazy life as a mom and a community worker -- so I asked my friend Marilyn Hollinquest what she thought of the idea. Marilyn said, “Absolutely, this is an amazing idea. Let's do it together.”
MTV: What do you think is so appealing about traditional girls’ groups like the Brownies?
Martinez: I think they’re appealing because they’re a space where sisterhood forms. It’s a gender-specific space, which I think is important for young kids and their development. And I think that working towards a collective goal and earning badges gives a sense of accomplishment.
And we liked all of that. We wanted to build upon that with topics that are more social justice-rooted, more rooted in experiences of girls of color. Edgier. We didn’t want to shy away from the issues being political.
Ages 8, 9, 10, and 11 are really formative years. A lot of our girls are getting ready to go to middle school. It’s really hard to be that age. We want to give them tools for their tool belt and armor to protect themselves. The earlier we can start creating a space for them to feel confident, to love themselves, to know what a healthy friendship looks like, what a healthy relationship looks like, the more that’s going to help them in these hard years to come.
MTV: What does a typical month for the Radical Brownies look like?
Martinez: Marilyn and I both have curriculum development experience, so we decided to outline the first six months when we launched. It’s all thematic and project-based. Every unit or theme leads to a badge. Our first unit was Black Lives Matter, which was actually very unplanned and unscripted, which is something we want to have room for in our curriculum -- we want to be able to respond to things as they happen. We meet twice a month and one unit is about two months' worth of work. For Black Lives Matter, they did three marches and one workshop.
The second unit was about beauty -- what does it mean to love yourself radically, to be radically beautiful? How do our imperfections make us beautiful? What does it mean to love our bodies and skin the way they are? They talked about consumerism and marketing and how that ties in, and we made our own beauty products -- lip balms and skin treatments.
This third badge will be “Environmental Justice” -- we’re just beginning that next week. We’ll have four sessions around it: A hike with Outdoor Afro; a community cleanup here in East Oakland where we’ll be talking about community responsibility; a community garden project with Planting Justice; and then lastly we are working with PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights) in San Francisco to take the girls on a “toxic bike tour” to look at different toxic sites and talk about environmental and economic justice. Then they’ll get their “Environmental Justice” badge.
MTV: How are you making the badges?
Martinez: So far our badges have all been designed by local artists we have relationships with. We’ve been just approaching folks one by one to tell them what the next unit is on and ask them to design something. Most badge-making companies require, like, 200 minimum per order, and we just need twelve, so we use a smaller scale custom badge-maker we found on Etsy -- we also love that because we get to support the small business of an artist.
Moving forward, we’re considering crowd-sourcing the design for our badges. We would tell the community the idea for our next badge, then we’d invite artists to submit designs, and then we’d have the girls vote and choose their badge and announce the winner.
MTV: You’ve had a ton of media attention since you started. How has that been?
Martinez: It’s been surreal and amazing and overwhelming. I mean, we never expected it to blow up this big. For me it was a whole side project, it was a labor of love, and I knew that Bay Area-wise people were going to love it...but I had no idea that it was going to spread so far beyond that. We’ve had people contact us from the U.K., from Bermuda, from Thailand, from Canada…[We’re in] complete amazement.
MTV: I heard the Radical Brownies had a big field trip recently.
Martinez: Yes! We went to UC Berkeley’s Empowering Women of Color Conference. We told the girls that it’s Women’s History Month, and that International Women’s Day was the same weekend, and that this conference has been happening for 30 years. For most of the girls, this was their first time on UC Berkeley’s campus even though it’s right in our backyard, so it was exciting to be there. We attended the first half of the day and the girls got to see the keynote speakers.
They didn’t have [workshops] that were age-appropriate for the girls, so the organizers were super sweet and gave us our own classroom to use to run our troop meeting. We used that time to unpack everything the girls heard in the keynote. We were surprised by how much they took in. They asked really great questions.
We also spent time making cards for Nicoll Hernandez-Polanco, a trans Latina woman who is being detained by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) [in a men’s ward] right now. She’s had a really hard time, so she has asked for letters of support. The girls made her all of these beautiful cards.
MTV: What advice do you have for people who might want to form a group similar to the Radical Brownies in their community?
Martinez: We get so many messages from people wanting to start a troop. We’re taking this first year to just really incubate our first troop and to set a strong foundation. We’re currently looking for fiscal sponsorship so we can eventually become [a registered nonprofit] and start fundraising.
In a year we definitely hope to start growing and forming other chapters, have an official curriculum, and to be able to train troop leaders. We want to make sure we don’t lose what we really want this project to be about, so we want to make sure that if other folks are going to be a part of it, they embody the same principles of social justice. There needs to be a common thread.
But this movement is bigger than us. If this has inspired you, start your own troop! We love that we have inspired folks who want to do this kind of work. And if young people want to start groups [for themselves], I always say, follow your passion, follow your heart. Find adult allies who can support you, who know how to allow youth to lead their own space and to offer support, and just do it! Having spaces that are created by youth and rooted in empowerment is so vital to our lives, and to the growth we need as a community.
[Editor's Note: As a result of some confusion over whether they’re affiliated with the Girl Scouts of America (they’re not), the Radical Brownies plan to announce a name change by the end of the month. Don’t worry, though -- they’ll still be radical in every sense of the word.]