Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Empowering the youth of DC

This month, as the school year winds down and summer is just around the corner, we have a guest blog post from Laura Irene, a board member and overall rock star volunteer with Girls Rock! DC.

The youth have a lot to teach us, it’s up to us as adults to listen and figure out ways to give them the tools they need to realize their power.  At Girls Rock! DC (GR!DC) that is exactly what we aim to do.  As a board member, events coordinator and dj instructor/coach for GR!DC I have been given an opportunity to create, build and support our youth by building positive outlets and encouraging creative spaces for youth.  With a base in music education, Girls Rock! DC aims to create a supportive, inclusive, and creative space for girls, and non-binary, and trans youth of varying racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds; abilities; identities; and experiences to develop their self-confidence, build community, stand up, and rock out!

I first discovered GR!DC as a journalist with The Vinyl District. I visited the camp during the 2013 summer and interviewed some of the instructors and the youth.  It was in that experience that I really fell in love with the organization and yearned to be a part of it.  I joined leadership a year later and feel that I have been able to add my unique voice as a women of color to the table alongside those that started the organization 10 years ago.  Which speaking of, this year is our 10th anniversary! While I have not been with GR!DC for all ten years, I am grateful to those that came before me that laid the groundwork for this organization to exist in DC.  We meet every other week throughout the year, which can be a thankless and laborious task as it takes a lot to keep such an organization alive.  None of us would dedicate our time to this organization if we didn’t feel it was worth it, and what is worth it, are the youth we serve.  They are the most amazing little and semi-big humans on this planet! We keep going for them.

I have the honor of getting to know our campers as they develop their instrumental abilities, which is always exciting.  As a dj coach and instructor, it is really funny when the campers discover a vinyl record.  One the first day of camp we take a trip to the record store and have them shop for a couple of records to use in their sets.  We take a while in the store as they try out their records.  One of my favorite memories of shopping at the record store was with my youngest camper, an eight year old.  She would listen to a record (mind you, she just discovered what a record was) and in a matter of seconds decide whether or not she liked it.  When she didn’t like one, her facial expression told us all it would go in the NO WAY pile.  She ended up playing all of the records at the fastest speed, which really hyped her and her fellow djs up. I love how their sense of music and how they like it played comes out as they prepare their sets.  It was so exciting to see this 8 year old hang and keep up with the older kids, she was just as capable.  That’s the amazing part, no matter your age, you have the ability to rise to any level you want if you put in the work.

The accumulation of their hard work is seen at the showcase at the 9:30 Club every year, which is such an exciting time for everyone involved.  Our campers are nervous in the day leading up to their showcase but once they get there and are on stage they are literally professionals.  As a dj coach, it is really special to see the djs entertain the crowd with their new skills.  I feel like a proud mom on the sidelines! Haha, and every year I cry at their talent. But most of all seeing them become fierce and unafraid is so special.  Not only have they mastered their techniques but their self-confidence beams from their faces as they perform. It’s the best experience to see them all feel like stars on the stage and see what everyone else sees in them every day.

While this is a music camp, we also make sure to have workshops that will hopefully get the youth to think more about their roles on this planet. Last year we had a workshop on the School to Prison pipeline given by OnRae LaTeal of Aflocentric. During her talk with our teen youth, she asked everyone to step in the middle of the room if they felt safe at their schools.  Only 2 of the youth stepped forward.  She then she asked them to step in the middle of the room if they felt safe at camp and all of them stepped forward.  That was chilling moment for me.  It’s hard for me to know that so many of our youth feel unsafe in their schools. at the same time, it was extremely moving to know that we create a safe space for them during that week of camp.  It makes me emotional to think about it.  That’s why no matter how hard the administrative and planning can get, it is always worth it.  It’s not about us it is only about the youth.

A brief history of Girls Rock! DC, following in the footsteps of girls rock camps across the United States, Girls Rock! DC was founded in October 2007 by an all-volunteer collective of DC metro area musicians, teachers, artists and community organizers.  We build upon our diverse musical backgrounds, connections to local youth, and approaches to grassroots organizing to create a week-long day camp for Washington, D.C. area youth ages 8-18.  During the week, campers receive small-group instruction on electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, turntables, digital music, or vocals; form bands, and collaborate to write an original song or DJ set, which they perform at a showcase at the end of the week.  This year our summer camp runs from June 26 – Friday, June 30 with our FANTASTIC Camper Showcase on Saturday, July 1st! Please be on the lookout for the announcement on our facebook page and website.

A really cool addition to our summer camp and one that I am not sure a lot of people know of is our afterschool program called GR!ASP (Girls Rock! After School Program).  It is as equally amazing as our summer camp and there are a few volunteers who basically run it year round.  It is typically run at a DC school that hosts it and we then bring our gear and instructors to their school to run it.   The GRASP showcase is another tear jerker! June 4th is the date for that showcase at Comet Ping Pong, which we hope to sell out! Our GRASP campers recently had the opportunity to open for the band Diet Cig at the Rock and Roll Hotel last month, so they are more than ready to rock the stage in a couple of weeks!

Laura Irene board member, events coordinator and dj instructor/coach for GR!DC. She can be reached at

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