As part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Runway to Annual Sessions, ‘We Are the Radical Monarchs’ is a two-part event for all ages (10-100!). The first event will be a community viewing of the documentary on June 11, followed by a facilitated discussion on June 13. Friends unable to join on June 11 can register and receive the link to view the film on their own time June 12-13 and join the conversation on Sunday!
This documentary film tells the story of a different kind of “scout troop” — a group of BIPOC girls in Oakland, CA who coalesce personal leadership around environmental, LGBTQ+, and disability issues of their time and community. The Radical Monarchs co-founders and leaders, two queer women of color, shape and motivate their work. Below is an interview with Melinda Wenner Bradley, PYM’s Youth Religious Life Coordinator, who describes “fierce sisterhood” and “multigenerational joy” as motivations to host these events.
To register for this workshop, go to https://www.pym.org/event/we-are-the-radical-monarchs/2021-06-11/
How do you feel this relates to Quaker families and meetings as they nurture youth in a world affected by the pandemic, climate change, racial justice, gender, sexual identity, and other transformational issues of our time?
In our Youth Programs in PYM, we center the voices of young people, and this is echoed in the film. A child who grows up attending PYM programs from Kindergarten through high school will develop their voice and sense of Quaker identity in the program communities. Youth Programs are brave spaces where challenging conversations can happen because young people are deeply cared for and mentored by adults who listen to them and welcome their gifts.
In my three years working with the Youth Programs, they’ve explored and participated in work around anti-racism and racial justice, immigration justice, “using your voice” to advocate for yourself and others, support for LGBTQ+ issues and community, environmental justice, concerns around incarceration, poverty, and homelessness. The experience of attending a Young Friends meeting for worship with attention to business — where the adults are guests and youth are clerking, recording, and actively engaged in discernment — illustrates how identity as a Friend is grounded in community and grown through experiential Quaker practice. In their programs, our young people are exploring the same issues the adult community has decided to focus on — sometimes steps ahead of them.
This relates to families and meetings because our Youth Programs do not exist in silos — our children attend and then return to us at home; they go back to their schools and local meetings and friend groups with new information, new skills, and a sense of their place in the world. They come to our program communities with the joys, challenges, and questions they experience every day. They walk the paths between these parts of their lives and, along with their peers, we (parents, caregivers, teachers, and mentors in local meetings, PYM program staff, Friendly Presences) are their accompaniment on those paths. I’d love for us to nurture those adult nurturers with intention and recognize the deep gifts of people called to ministry in youth work.
For me, the film’s journey with Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, the co-founders of the Radical Monarchs troop, is a real look into the complex lives of people who are parents, youth workers, and activists. We see their struggles and their celebrations. I wonder what would it feel like when we gather in our PYM community if we centered the needs of our children, youth, families, and adults who work with youth? Who else might feel called to step onto those paths of accompaniment, and how might we grow as a yearly meeting community?
We are the Radical Monarchs is a two-part event on the Runway to Annual Sessions. How are the events split, and what can we expect from them?
On Friday evening, we have an opportunity to view the film together and be in community to experience the story. On Sunday, we’ll gather again for a discussion about the film that will be facilitated by Youth Programs and Community Engagement staff.
I’m excited to watch the film with other Friends — of all ages! — and explore our experience of the story together. PYM also has the license to share the Vimeo link for viewing the film at any time over the weekend, so if someone is unable to attend the community viewing on Friday, that shouldn’t deter them! We can share the link to watch, and you can join the conversation on Sunday evening. I also want to lift up that the staff team who will be facilitating the conversation identify as BIPOC, white, queer, and cis/het; inclusive leadership is important in the unpacking of this film and the experiences in it.
Also: If you register soon, I’m mailing popcorn to you for the viewing! That’s just for fun and in the spirit of sharing this experience together across our homes and Zoom screens.
What inspired you to host a viewing of this documentary?
“Fierce sisterhood” and multigenerational joy!
I saw the film promoted on PBS and was really moved by just the part shown in the preview! (When one of the troop members refers to, “history, or, ‘herstory,’ as we like to say,” I did actually cry.) Empowerment of children is important to me as an educator and parent. Our society continues to have a lot of work to do in addressing misogyny, and this is more acute for BIPOC girls, women, and communities. This is an opportunity to amplify the voices of the BIPOC, queer, troop co-founders and the incredible modeling they do with real talk about real issues in the Radical Monarchs. I love that the themes lifted up in the film’s description include, “fierce sisterhood.”
The other big hope is to encourage a multigenerational community gathering in our PYM family! There is so much to be learned and celebrated when we gather across generations — in our families, our meetings, and the Yearly Meeting. The film is appropriate for ages 10-110, so I’ve been hopeful that a family or a meeting will sign up together to watch and be part of the discussion. We hope youth will attend and bring their voices and perspectives to the conversation.
What are your hoped-for takeaways from the event for the Quaker community? For youth who attend?
There’s a lot of inspiration alongside reality in the story the film tells, and a lot to discuss. The themes in the film that we’ll pick up on in the conversation on Sunday include youth activism, social justice, self-empowerment, advocacy, and addressing inequality. Which happen to also be themes in our PYM Youth Programs! There’s also an opportunity to recognize from the film the importance of spaces that center BIPOC voices and the need BIPOC youth have for those affinity spaces. We’re creating a space for conversation across ages, across experiences, and I would anticipate that all of us will learn from the film and each other.
How can Friends support youth who want to engage in or facilitate social justice movements?
Youth have always played a critical role in social change! Black youth led the Children’s Crusade of the Civil Rights Movement and, more recently, high school students founded the March for Our Lives movement to end the gun violence epidemic. Adults can support youth by listening more than talking, connecting them with other youth and youth-led opportunities, and then listening some more. For us as Friends, there is the opportunity to nurture the spiritual grounding of youth activism — creating spaces for young people to explore how they are led by Spirit to witness for justice and change. We can help them name the ways our testimonies invite the pairing of faith and action and what this means for them.
PYM Youth Programs, particularly for middle and high school youth, frequently invite people engaged in social justice to lead workshops and discussions. If you have a suggested facilitator, please be in touch.
There is also an amazing opportunity during Annual Sessions! Young Friends will have a series of social justice workshops during that week with activist, artist, social work educator, and Sessions keynote speaker Mai Spann-Wilson, M.S.W.. The multigenerational part of the experience will begin with a workshop for adult participants on July 6: Social Justice Workshop for Adult Presences with Mai Spann-Wilson. This workshop during the Runway to Annual Sessions is for adults who are in mentoring or familial relationships with high-school age youth who plan to register for the Young Friends program at Annual Sessions.
Tell us about upcoming Youth Programs. What is happening now or planned for later?
So glad for this question — and before answering it, I want to lift up that local meetings are the best way for young people and families to learn about what’s happening in PYM programs for them. In addition to communications from the Yearly Meeting, what’s even better is having an adult in your meeting (or family, or Friends school) say, “Hey, I think you might be interested in this event/program/community.” Bring a friend the first time you join, if that helps to break the ice — All are welcome!
In the last year, the wonderful Youth Programs staff — Crystal Hershey and Mars Hohenstein with Children & Families, Elizabeth Croce, Kristin Simmons, and Alix Vallery with MSF, and Olivia Chalkley and Aeryn Luminkith with Young Friends — held our youth communities in care and listened for what was both possible and needed. We persevered with a lot of creativity, and now we’re feeling what everyone else is — a hope for some normalcy. We recently had our staff planning retreat for Youth Programs to focus on September 2021-June 2022 programs, and we’re looking forward to being able to resume in-person programs when it’s safe for each program community. The calendar will be available in time to share at Annual Sessions!
Our program theme for the coming year is: Building the Quaker Community We Want to Be. This will show up across the Children & Families, Middle School Friends, and Young Friends programs and events, in how we gather and what happens when we do. We’re also hoping to connect more with local meetings to encourage connection with this theme in their programs for children and youth, illuminating those paths that we’re walking together.
One of the great things about PYM Youth Programs is the sense of belonging to a bigger community of “Quaker kids.” We hope Friends of all ages will join us for the Radical Monarchs film and discussion, to make that circle even wider!
For questions/information about PYM Youth Religious Life contact Melinda at mwennerbradley at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting