Marilyn Hollinquest on the Radical Monarchs

Interview with Marilyn Hollinquest by Phil Bolsta

Watch Marilyn Hollinquest’s interview:


Radical Monarchs co-founder
Marilyn Hollinquest

Welcome, Marilyn. Thank you for joining us today.

Thank you for having me, Phil. I'm excited to be here.

Allow me to introduce you. Marilyn Hollinquest, co-founder of the Radical Monarchs, is a social justice advocate who specializes in empowering young women of color. She has more than 15 years of experience as a teacher, community advocate, and scholar. Marilyn, who are the Radical Monarchs?

We are a social justice focus group for young girls of color, and they earn badges based on topics that are of interest to them.

When was the group started, and why?

The group was started in December of 2014. We started because we saw a need for social justice programming specifically for girls in the third to fifth grade. Oftentimes you'll get maybe some social justice focused programming when you're a teenager and beyond, but not really when you're in the third to fifth grade, and especially for girls. So we decided that there was a need, and we wanted to fill it. Then also, the other co-founder's daughter, Lupita, really wanted to have a social justice focus group, and she asked her mother to start one.

Radical Monarchs co-founder
Anayvette Martinez

She was like, "Oh yes, that's a great idea." She's also really busy organizing, and was working full time, and was like, "That's a great idea." Lupita kept following back, and circling back, and being like, "Mommy, when are you going to start that group? I already started recruiting girls from school. They said they were interested. When are you going to start this social justice focus group for girls?" Then she looped me in, and told me about the idea, which I thought was fabulous. I was like, "Oh yes. Let's totally do it," and so we created the first curriculum, and then we started.

That's awesome. What do your group activities look like?

As I said, we earn Radical Badges. What the activities look like is based on the badge. For instance, we recently earned a badge called "Radical Advocacy." Each badge is either a 3-month or a 5-month badge. The Radical Advocacy badge is a 5-month badge, and that's the one they do before they graduate because of the layered skill set it takes for advocacy. A part of that badge is activities… in the five months, they learn about the organizing cycle. They went out and did some canvassing, and then they also learn about how a bill becomes a law.

Then finally, the culminating trip is we take them to the Sacramento State Capitol, and they get to meet women lawmakers and see how that process works. They advocate to the lawmakers based on issues that they pick that the girls thought were important to their community. The three issues the girls picked were climate justice, police brutality, and affordable housing. They also come up with solutions to each of those issues, and then the lawmakers tell them what bills they can potentially be sponsoring and other community-based activities to help those issues.

That's terrific. From watching the video on the Radical Monarchs website, it looks like the girls under your watch are truly blossoming in wonderful ways. Can you share any stories about how the girls have grown in awareness and a commitment to activism?

Sure. I'll use one particular example of a girl that was in Troop 1. She's now an alumni. We have an alumni program where they come back and participate as junior radical troop leaders. We went to the state capitol with her group, the founding troop, last year. She was really inspired. We went on the Sacramento State Capitol tour. They take you around the building, and show you all the portraits of different governors. Then there's a wall of governors where it has maybe about, I would say, 8.5” x 11” photos of all the governors. The girls quickly noticed and told the tour guide like, "Wait. There are no women. There are no women represented. There are no women of color. What's that about? All of the governors, and there's no women of color." She said after that, she was like, "You know what? I'm really inspired. I want to be the governor some day."

We were like, "Yes, that's amazing. We totally support you." So one of her first steps that she did is run for student-body president at her school, and she actually won. She said because of the trip to the Sacramento State Capitol, she saw how important it was for her to represent her community, and also to participate in her school's student-body system. So directly from that trip, she was inspired to run for student-body president. Thankfully, she won. She ran a successful campaign. She also recruited another Monarch from her school to help her run her campaign, and be her campaign manager. That was something that was really exciting and inspiring. Also, she was one of the three alumni who came to the trip for Troop 2, and really mentored them, and helped them practice talking about their issues to lawmakers.

That's beautiful. It's so important to inspire and mentor girls when they're young like this. Then sometimes that's all it takes is just a moment of awareness.


The Radical Monarchs advocating for the abolishment of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

What are the details of your other Radical Badges?

Our other Radical Badges, we have nine total that they earn. It's three per year, because like I said, it takes three months to earn the typical badge, and then five months for the Radical Advocacy Badge. Some of the other badges we earn, allyship is really important to us, so we earn a Radical Pride Badge, and we teach the girls about the gender spectrum. We go to Trans March, and help support our LGBTQI communities, and learn about the struggles that they face, and also the wins that they have accomplished. That's one. It's really important for us to be allies in the community. Another badge we earn is called the "Black Lives Matter Badge." We learn about the herstory of that movement, how it was created by three black women, and the current work that they do.

We also work with our local chapter with different events and actions that they have. Radical Pride, Black Lives Matter... another badge is, let me see, let me give you a variety because I talked about radical advocacy too. Another badge is called "Radical Love", where we talk about having healthy, interdependent friendships. That's really important to us because as a group of young girls, and I would say people in general, a lot of people say like, "Oh, we all need to get along, and we need to work together." It really takes skills in order to work together in a healthy way, and so interdependence is something that is really important for that badge. "Interdependence" just meaning supporting someone while you're being supported. That's another badge.

Another one that I'll mention that's one of my favorites, is Radical Healing. In Radical Healing, we partner with a local apothecary school where they're learning about Indigenous healing practices, and so the girls learn about the different healing plants and herbs and flowers. They do a lot of hands-on making, and also herbal first-aid kits. That badge is really important because in order to do social justice work, in order to do it over time, you really have to take care of yourself, and be really engaged with your own healing process. That's another badge we earn. Just to give you a little bit of a sample of the different kinds of badges.

That's terrific. What does the future hold for the Radical Monarchs?

The future holds everything. We currently have two troops. One, our founding troop, like I said. We started that one in December 2014. Our badge-earning program, Radical Badges, they earn them for three years. They earn three badges per year, and then after that their cohort is done. They graduate, and continue to participate as alumni, and come back and mentor other troops. So what the future holds is more troops. Thankfully we've gotten some grant funding, and we will be launching one, two, three, four more troops in... let me name the cities, all local.

San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond. We'll be launching four troops in the spring. The goal is really to launch troops were they are wanted and needed. A lot of people reach out to us and say, "Hey. We really need a troop in our area." With that, we partner with the community, figure out what their resources are, and what funding is available in those local communities to support the troop, so that regardless of a family's ability to pay for field trips and things, we're able to offer all of those at a sliding scale.

Well, that's great. How can people get in touch with Radical Monarchs?

The best way to get in touch with us is to email us: You can also follow us on our social media @radicalmonarchs. Our Instagram is what we update the most. We also have a Facebook page. You're more than welcome to follow us there as well.

Where did the name "Radical Monarchs" come from? From the butterfly?

Yeah. It came from the monarch butterfly, and the girls actually picked it. We took a pool, a suggestion of different names that they had. They had a lot of awesome suggestions... Radical Sistahs. They had so many suggestions, and so what we did is, we took their suggestions, and had them pick their top three. Out of their top three we did a contest on our social media pages, and we had artists come up with designs, logos for those three names. Then they submitted those, and the girls picked their top three favorites.

Then out of the three favorites, the three names that they chose, and three logos to match them, the girls voted on what was their favorite. Radical Monarchs won because the girls really liked the story of how the monarch butterfly migrates and crosses borders all over. They really liked that, and they also really liked the fact that it went from... There was this evolution involved; it went from a worm to a butterfly. They really enjoyed that too. So yeah, and they loved the logo for it, which was made by an artist that submitted to our social media. Yeah, that's how they came up with the name. The girls picked it.

Well, Marilyn, thank you so much for your time today. My daughter has always been a fierce social justice advocate, so I'm really happy to hear about this. I made a donation through your website, and I hope others do too. Thank you so much for doing this.

Thank you so much, Phil. I really appreciate it. Yeah, social justice is the key here. Really teaching girls and people in general, the ABC's, and One, Two, Three's of how you stay involved in your local government, your city councils, your community, Your vote matters. I love doing this work, and really appreciate you highlighting us.

My pleasure.

Marilyn Hollinquest, co-founder of the Radical Monarchs, is a social justice advocate who specializes in empowering young women of color. She has more than 15 years of experience as a teacher, community advocate, and scholar.

Marilyn received her MA in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University, and her BA in Community Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz. Marilyn is passionate about the marriage of theory and practice (praxis), which is at the core of her commitment to the authentic inclusion of disenfranchised peoples. She currently builds radical community in her chosen home of Oakland, California.

Click here to visit the Radical Monarchs website.

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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 3: Black History Month