Located in the family-friendly Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C., upbeat music echoes out of the windows of Girls Rock DC!.
As visitors step through the doors, they’ll find the welcome desk stocked with nametags available for everyone—staff, campers, and guests. Pronoun ribbons with double-sided tape are available for all to use, creating a safe and nurturing environment for girls, non-binary, and trans youth and adults.
“This morning we began with Cardi B and Calisthenics—alliteration and assonance are very important here,” says Katie, the organization’s media director, with a smile.
The organization’s afterschool programs run Monday through Thursday during the school year, and their incredible summer program ends with a concert at the 9:30 Club. In the summer, campers are divided into groups by age: Verse, ages 8-10; Bridge, ages 11-13; and Chorus, 14-18. Each camper has their own unique style and each group has been working in their individual teams to write and perform their own songs.
“This is a safe space to learn how to be in a community with all kinds of people,” Katie says. The theme of the day is ‘Incognito’ and Katie and the rest of the team are dressed in eccentric costumes. Volunteers dressed as cute animals and 60’s pop stars. Even Rick James walked throughout the space assisting the campers during their workshops.
Girls Rock DC! hosts a series of feminist workshops designed to empower the participants and keep them engaged. While music is a big factor in all activities, the heart of the camp experience is social justice.
“We have 100 percent attendance in camps—we love our parents tremendously,” Katie says. “We’re not mimicking someone else’s voice, we’re helping them find their own.”
The statement is proven to be true after a visit with a Chorus group, Sunflowers. Preteens work together to write their lyrics and practice what they’ve done so far. The combination of drums, guitar, and relevant lyrics get everyone in the room out of their seats.
“A time for change, change, change a time for change… a big ol’ change,” the band members belt out over the sound of live instruments—and their powerhouse voices are beautiful.
Not only does the final product radiate exceptional teamwork and musical skills; there is a meaningful political message, too. At the end of the song, the band raises their arms above their heads and say “Don’t shoot”—a tribute to victims of police brutality and gun violence.
At the end of their practice, Sunflowers agree on the choreography they’ll use to close the show. The volunteers are beaming with pride and everyone exchanges high-fives. The bands are ready for their big show and the excitement fills the entire floor. The music blasts in the background and everyone in the room is on their feet, dancing.
“I need a coffee!” Caitie from the Bridge Group shouts, exhausted from dancing. Naturally, one of the volunteers offers her water as an alternative, but everyone bursts into laughter.
“The girls enter the camp as observers and leave as participants,” Katie says. Caffeinated or not, those young souls have all the tools they need to be the happy, productive, and inspiring change-makers the world needs.
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