By Jewelle Saunders
“Love creates a sense of belonging,” shares lawyer and human rights defender Monique Rodrigues Do Prado. “Love brings people together,” she continues. “It’s a part of culture.”
Monique, a 2021 YLAI Fellow, is also a U.N. Human Rights’ Programme for People of African Descent Fellow and a participant in the Leaders Lead On-Demand African Descent Social Entrepreneurship Exchange, sponsored by the Education of Cultural Affairs and World Learning. She is no stranger to understanding the importance of belonging.
Monique speaks with the YLAI Network team about her journey from law to advocacy for Black people in Brazil, the way the concept of love strengthens her tenacity, and her advice for others looking to make a difference in their community.
Inspired by a collective space
Monique grew up in a suburb of São Paulo, the oldest adopted daughter of four siblings. “I never had a second thought of being a lawyer,” says Monique. After graduating from law school in 2015, she worked in family law and tax law. She then joined an NGO, EDUCAFRO, as a volunteer, and her eyes opened to the human rights world and to the concept of intersectionality.
Her work with EducAfro utilized her law skills by focusing on educational inequality and discrimination within Brazil and within the Quilombolas community, the resistance of African-descendant people in Brazil. One case in particular dealt with affirmative action measures to increase Afro-Brazilians’ and Indigenous peoples’ access to higher education. At EducAfro, she learned about the connections of gender, race, and class, and she envisioned creating a space where fellow Afro-Brazilians could talk about their experiences.
Art: Another form of empowerment
In 2017, Monique founded Afronta Coletivo, a collective emphasizing the “sociocultural work carried out by Black women who believe in the dissemination of Afro-Brazilian culture.” She began by organizing “Afront Day” — referring to “Afro” power — a day born from social network connections where Black women from all over Brazil could gather, celebrate their Blackness, and discuss the current political, economic, and cultural state of their community and country.
Afronta Coletivo has launched art exhibitions, workshops, discussions, and more, focusing on the things that bind us together, such as poetry, literature, music, and cinema.
Love can strengthen communities
“Love is something that we can share with our communities,” reflects Monique. “Love is more than just romantic. It can be something that strengthens you and gives you power to fight.” After her experiences in law school not being taken seriously as a young lawyer, and beginning with Afronta Coletivo, Monique was inspired by the concept of love being a powerful force to create cultural and systemic change.
Monique is working toward her Master’s at the University of São Paulo researching Samba, a traditional Afro-Brazilian dance. Monique views Samba as a safe space that reinforces the expression of love, belonging, and partnership for Black people. “No one is crying when they’re in a Samba circle expressing themselves.”
Monique’s biggest passion is in making sure that people feel that they are worthy. “Everyone matters,” she says. When we connect and express ourselves, it “brings people together to feel that sense of belonging.”
Connection is key
Monique credits the virtual 2021 YLAI Fellowship experience with helping her mature and reigniting a fire within her, teaching her that “we have to be a part of a network to change the system.” Within this experience, she discovered new possibilities to take advantage of an international community where she could change her world, and well beyond that.
Her advice to the YLAI Network community is to understand that within each of our own objectives, we can all contribute if we are connected. Whether within your own community, your business sector, or beyond, you can put forward energy to fix the underlying problems, but you have a lot to learn by opening yourself to connecting with others. “Make sure you are aware of yourself first and then learn that while you have many things to contribute, people have incredible things to teach you back.”
Learn more about building diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts into your business and discover what you can do for your community with new #YLAI4All resources.
The YLAI Fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, with funding provided by the U.S. government.
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.