Black Joy as a Liberation and Healing Praxis

As I contemplated how I wanted to enter my 2nd year as an English Writing and Composition PhD student, I prioritized securing an internship with an organization aligned with my research interests, gaining experience with qualitative research methods, and polishing my proposal. I am interested in institutional critique studies, an interdisciplinary field that focuses on critiquing institutional policy. In my case, I focus on the institution of 4-year universities in America. In addition to wanting academic writing experience, I also wanted technical writing experience so that my skills could be transferrable to any job I seek after graduation.

This summer, I worked with Radical Monarchs, an activism organization based in Oakland, CA, for black and Latina girls of color, ages 8-13. The program provides what they call “Social Justice Educational Radical Badge Units” for the girls. Each Radical Badge Unit involves learning about social justice and self-empowerment focused topics through experiential field trips and workshops.  Examples of some of the Radical Badges earned by the students include: Black Lives Matter, Radical Pride, Pachamama Justice, and Radical Coding.  My primary tasks included researching national funders so the organization could apply for more funding and completing day-to-day administrative projects for Marilyn Hollinquest, the CEO of Finances and Operations.

One of the most meaningful elements of this immersive fellowship for me was developing a relationship with Marilyn, who has become a good friend and empathetic colleague – the type of person who looks out for me. In my doctoral experience, I have had some problems translating my ideas and experiences into conventional academic frameworks. And now with the classroom being reduced to Zoom, it has become harder for me to express myself to professors. I feel too vulnerable and too visible, with my moves always being watched and judged. With Marilyn, I still remember our first conversation, which went so well I thought I was dreaming. I picked up the Google Chat call and saw her with her baby. She had her phone in one hand and baby in the other while jumping in between apps to ensure I was receiving everything she was mentioning in real time. She was the epitome of multitasking and also seemed to be a good model for how to show up as your authentic self in all circumstances without apology. I had my heart set on creating a dynamic relationship with her while also learning about and contributing to Radical Monarchs’ aims. Thanks to Marilyn’s understanding of my learning process and respect of my time and labor, this has been the most pleasant fellowship experience I have had to date. Not only was I able to learn ways to organize, plan, and execute projects, but I gained a new partnership and colleague.

Even from the start, Radical Monarchs exceeded all of my expectations. Being an activist, organizer, and academic kept my schedule full this summer with pop-up actions, rallies, protests, and community events. Because Radical Monarchs focuses on creating opportunities for young girls to radically change their communities, I was encouraged to do my local, on-the-ground work in Pittsburgh and share insights I was learning for the purpose of strengthening their curricula. Radical Monarchs was consistently able to adapt to my needs, switch around schedules, reduce or increase workloads, and keep an open line of communication with me. I had the opportunity to use many administrative skills already in my toolkit: developing Excel sheets for projects, organizing Outlook, writing draft responses to inquiries, etc.  I was able to hone skills in other areas, such as grant writing and grant prospecting, skills which will be immeasurably valuable when the time comes to apply for funding in Fall 2020.  I also learned quite a bit about models for youth-led radical curriculum.

Working with Radical Monarchs helped me discover new frameworks that I will explore in my dissertation prospectus and gave me ideas for several journal articles. As planned, I learned how methods of counter-storytelling can be used to promote sisterhood, collective power, and radical change amongst youth organizers.  I will be thinking more deeply about the construction of personal narratives from young girls of color and about how the vibrancy of those narratives are used in various political spaces.  (On one extreme end of the spectrum, you can see a clip from a documentary about Radical Monarchs, recently aired on PBS, that discusses the nasty attack against the organization by Fox News.)

I am excited to continue my relationship with Radical Monarch to learn more about ways to better our communities by empowering youth and especially young girls. For anyone contemplating doing an immersive next year, I would say find your match. Given my interests in working with Black girls and celebrating Black joy as a liberation and healing praxis, it was serendipitous to find a nonprofit that sought to share knowledge from the Black radical tradition with children. While my time with Radical Monarchs was short and fast, it was priceless.

Taylor Waits
October 14, 2020
Learn about all the Summer 2020 Immersive Fellows and their experiences with their host organizations.