Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Girl Power ROCKS!

(Photo by Audrey Meshulam)

Imagine walking onstage in front of a packed house of hundreds of people at DC’s 9:30 club, after you’ve only had your hands on an instrument for 5 days.

What instills that level of confidence so quickly is something way beyond music camp. Co-Founder of Girls Rock DC, Jenn Fox-Thomas likes to call GRDC “Empowerment camp, CLEVERLY disguised as a rock camp”.

How do the girls do it? By being told they can. That confidence, nurtured and supported by a collaborative effort of over 70 energetic and positive volunteers, goes to the core of each girl’s psyche, and stays there. The impact of the entire experience lasts throughtout the year.

How the organizers do it is through a lot of hard work. GRDC camp starts with a rousing morning assembly in the Hall of Sisterhood (aka the lunch room at Mary McLeod Bethune Public Charter School, which generously donated the space). Girls gather by instrument group first and break up into bands in the afternoon. 3 new workshops are held each day, split into age groups when appropriate.

Organizer Mel with campers; Girls interviewing each other in "Talking back through filmmaking" class. Photos by Dominique Fierro

Imani H., vocalist for Lightning Diamonds, was nervous when she first came to camp because she didn’t know anyone. Since it’s not often you are allowed to yell during a morning assembly and not get in trouble, that quickly became her favorite part. It helped her overcome her shyness. Here she is on stage: (Photo by Audrey Meshulam)

Co-Founder Ebony Dumas takes me on a tour of the camp. They have a lot of space requirements for all of the classes and equipment. Working on a minimal budget, the 501c3 accepts donations all year long.

In the “Ani DiFranco” room, (each room is named after a female musician), keyboards are arranged in a circle. The girls give a show of hands to see whether they are comfortable with what they know. Students have been working on their original song all week. They take turns playing their pieces to a captive audience of peers, which does double duty helping them to work out any nervousness.

Dalai W. by D. Fierro.

Drummers maintain a rhythm, and if they come back on the beat a little switched up, they learn to catch themselves and keep going, thanks to volunteer instructor Vivian. Working the high hat, base and snare drums takes practice so they build up gradually. Checking the grip of their sticks, posture, and being comfortable are all items on the checklist in their minds she wants them running through before they start.

In the “Patti Smith” room, 6 of the tiniest guitarists you've ever seen create beautiful cacophony running through their riffs. Four bassists are engaging in similar exercises in another room. 12 year old Columbia Heights resident Ella Moore enlivens the group with her supportive banter and advice. She's inclusive of everyone in the room. With only 3 days on a bass, she’s playing like a pro. “I’ve played guitar for 4 years” she confided to me later. “I taught myself”. No surprise her band song, which she co-wrote with Kennedy D., is titled “You Can’t Stop Us Now!”.

The packed vocal room hosts girls singing a cappella to a raucous crowd, thereby preparing the singers by imitating the crowd they will face at 9:30 club on Saturday. Attention grabbing 9 year old Bethany is clearly enjoying her 1st year at camp, giving the most adorable little-kid-voice rap, complete with "Fricka-fricka-fresh" and a wink.

Bethany by D. Fierro

In the appropriately named “Queen Latifa room of Self-Reflection”, the girls can take a break from all the stimulus if needed. Counselors are on hand and always available to talk. Last year, GRDC lost an “amazing, inspiring, and beloved camper and volunteer”. The Ariana Kosok Future of Rock Fund provided scholarships for 27 girls to attend GRDC this year.

The sometimes intense yet positive workshops cover such a wide array of topics such as song writing, filmmaking, teen health, and “Don’t confuse cost with value”. In “If you don’t like it, change it”, the teenage group reviewed a brief history of American protesting which spurred much discussion. Yavonna Rayfield, 15, of Hyattsville, MD brought up a protest held at her school over recent transportation cuts, which would have left some students unable to get to school. "Some people don’t have ways to ride the metro and all that", she noted. After the school's peaceful protest, "they kept the transportation for us".

Yavonna pictured center. Photo by D. Fierro

For Gigi S।, the 10 year old guitarist in The Uncontrollables who loves to rap in her free time, the hardest part for her is getting to and from camp to her home in the Palisades, "but it's worth it!" she said with a huge smile.

The Uncontrollables

What happened at the showcase was pure magic. A few mistakes were made, but given the time frame, it was one phenomenal feat. These girls know how to tell the world about their greatness.

* 9:30 Club stage photos by Audrey Meshulam
** All other camp photos by Dominique Fierro

More here: http://dominiquefierro.smugmug.com

Additional coverage and photos of the Camper Showcase at DCist


  1. Thanks Diedree! You focused on what camp is all about-- the kids. Great article.

  2. Wishing GR!DC support and love 4-ever!