Girls Rock! DC & TVD: We’re at the Summer Camp 2013 Sessions

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Girls Rock! DC Summer Camp is a local non-profit established as a place for girls from the ages of 8–18 to find and develop their self-confidence through music. The camp is run daily for one week during the year by an all-volunteer staff, some saving a week’s worth of leave to make the camp a reality for the girls. Campers form bands and are coached by volunteer musicians to write and perform original songs and DJ sets.

After a week of long, hard work, the girls will perform in their very own showcase at the legendary 9:30 Club this Saturday, July 27 at 11:00am. The showcase is open to the public and tickets are only $10—kids 8 and under are free. All proceeds will go to Girls Rock! DC Summer Camp. Get your tickets at the door or online to attend one of the best shows of the year.

We had the opportunity to spend time with the girls at camp on Thursday, July 25, for a day of “Telling the World About My/Our Greatness,” which also happened to be Crazy Hat Day. We spoke with a former camper-turned-professional-DJ, now camp instructor, a newly formed teen Reggae band, two spunky girls, and the woman who helps keep the camp running. The small amount of time spent with the campers and volunteers was enough to witness that the Girls Rock! DC Camp is truly a very special program.

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Arriving at camp yesterday I found myself in the Spinderella Room and excited to see the crates of vinyl records used for the DJ portion of the camp. I talked with 20-year-old DJ instructor, Jamilla Okubo (DJ Lilla Jams) and a former Girls Rock! DC camper.

Talk about your experience as a camper versus now being an instructor.

It’s different, but it was really fun as a camper because I got to go to all the different workshops. It was also nice to learn how to DJ from professional woman DJs in the area.

As an instructor and former camper I know how campers feel about learning new equipment, especially as a DJ because it’s different from being in a band. DJs have to learn about a lot of different music to be able to put it together. It was really nerve-wracking to teach the campers how to DJ because I’m not much of a talker; that’s been the hardest part. The first day, I was really nervous, but once I got comfortable with the kids it was a lot easier.

Did you discover you liked to DJ when you attended as a camper?

Yes. I knew about the world of DJing when I attended a workshop at Words, Beat and Life, but I wasn’t interested in pursuing it until Girls Rock! Camp. At Girls Rock! you get a lot of attention, everyone has a positive attitude, and it’s really empowering for girls. I liked the idea of DJing with other girls and building leadership skills through teamwork. After my first performance at the 9:30 Club, I got a lot of offers from different organizations associated with Girls Rock. It was cool to be able communicate with others using my DJ skills and work with the people who run and put together Girls Rock. It meant a lot to me to be a part of that.

While I was DJing as a camper, I got a lot of support from the DJ instructors; they helped me to not be afraid. At the time, one of the volunteers was working at the MLK Library ,and I got to DJ for one of their opening ceremonies—that was really fun. It’s important to have those opportunities because it inspires other people my age to want to DJ. It’s cool to be able to see girls do things like that, especially because I think most people associate being a DJ as a man’s career.

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Do you use vinyl records when you DJ?

DJing with vinyl compared to digital is really cool. I think DJing with vinyl is really important because it is the base of DJing; it’s important to learn the foundation first. I do have a lot of vinyl now that I am a DJ, but when I get the opportunity to DJ, it’s hard to use vinyl because I don’t have my own equipment, but one day I’d like to be able to have the equipment I need to do that because I think it’s cool.

Next, I entered the Patti Smith Room where teens 14–18 years worked on branding their band—a skill bands need at all stages. I was able to talk with the band Jamaican Me Wanna Dance, a Reggae group—Jasmine, Emma, Rosa, Hanna, and Anya—whose official band photo is a copy of the famous Breakfast Club photo.

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Girls Rock! instills a deep sense of pride in each girl who attends. What is your favorite part of camp, and what do you feel is the greatest lesson you have learned at camp over the years?

Emma (4th-year camper): The people that we meet because everyone here is really nice, and it’s fun to be in a band and meet people who enjoy music as much as I do. It makes me more confident with music and singing. It helps me stand up for myself and what I believe in. I am empowered to believe in myself more and not to listen to people if they say you can’t do something because you can—you can do whatever you want.

Jasmine (3rd-year camper): My favorite part about camp is meeting new people, and the counselors are cool too. I have a band outside of camp called Basement Instinct—alternative funk garage. I find it very hard to get my band’s name out there and sometimes it seems like no one cares, but here every one cares. This particular class helps me understand the value of branding for a band, which I find helpful.

Rosa (1st-year camper): Being able to play in a band is my favorite thing about camp.

Hanna (3rd-year camper): I like the people and being in a band, but I don’t like playing in front of people. The people at Girls Rock! are the only people who will ever get to hear me play my instrument because I don’t like to play in public. My family keeps asking me why I don’t practice at home, but I do—when my family isn’t around!  I started off playing guitar my first year of camp, but now I play drums, a skill I learned here and really enjoy.

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Anya (5th-year camper): The best part about camp is seeing people who are returning and meeting new people. I also like the artists that come and play at lunch. Bella Donna played on Monday, and they were really, really good. We all loved them. A valuable lesson I have learned at camp is to not care what people say to you. Here, you are around a whole bunch of people who appreciate you whether you know it or not, and they will always support you in anything that you do. You also learn to advocate for yourself; everyone comes out of camp a better leader and a better person.

What can we expect from Jamaican Me Wanna Dance on Saturday at the 9:30 Club?

A new sound, because everyone else does Rock. It will be a memorable experience for everyone —it will be groundbreaking because it will be the first time for a Reggae band to perform.

 The youngest campers range from 8–10 years old but are just as confident as the teens at camp. Busy making guitars out of cardboard boxes, two special young ladies took time out to answer a question.

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What is your favorite part of Girls Rock! ?

Ellen (3rd-year camper): I like when we make up our song at band practice. We play rock music. We don’t have a song title yet, but it’s about forming our band. I have a guitar at home, so I’ve been playing for a while. I get excited every year to come to camp. My favorite band is KISS—but I also listen to rock, reggae, and some pop.

Sasha (1st-year camper): My favorite part is band practice, rehearsing stuff that we make up. I play the keyboards for our rock band, and I’m excited to play at the 9:30 Club on Saturday. One of my favorite things about camp is discovering how weird I am! I’m really weird, and I love being weird!

The girls attending Girls Rock! Camp look forward to it every year, but none of it would be possible without the people who keep it running. Annie Lipsitz’s dedication to Girls Rock! is contagious and admirable.

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What inspires you to dedicate your time to Girls Rock! Camp?

Annie: I love coming to Girls Rock! Camp; it’s my favorite week of the whole year. The show on Saturday is my favorite show of the whole year. I think it’s a really important space for girls and young women. We are working on a ladies rock camp for adults to extend our programming, but also to raise more money to accept more girls and hopefully offer more sessions.

How many kids are on financial aid, and what do you need to help sustain Girls Rock’s future?

We have 62 campers this summer, and two-thirds of those are on financial aid. We gave $17,000 in financial aid this year, which I am really proud of. We try to be as inclusive and accessible to all girls as we can, so being able to provide financial aid is important.

We always need money and donations of all kinds. We always need more resources; we need gear donations, but that gear also needs to be repaired, too, which can be expensive. With more funding, we can offer money to our volunteers and extend camp to even more girls and weeks. It’s one week of camp, but we work year round to put it on. Love and support is needed more than anything. One thing everyone can do is come to the showcase at 11am at the 9:30 Club. It’s probably the best show you’ve never seen!

Get to the 9:30 Club this Saturday (7/27) for the Girls Rock! DC Showcase, and don’t forget to check out their website for all the ways you can help. 

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