An 8-year-old stops near a snack bar to grab a new pair of purple earplugs before heading to band practice.
“We’re going to need these,” Ellie Johnson says. ”Our band is loud.”
Johnson is part of Girls Rock Fort Worth, a weeklong summer camp that uses music education and workshops to help girls ages 8-17 find their voices.
“A lot of what we do here is just supporting each other and not judging one another,” says Sarah Reagan, the camp’s 40-year-old founder. “We also want them to take up space and own their space.”
Before organizing the Fort Worth camp in 2016, Reagan, a singer-songwriter, volunteered for Girls Rock Dallas. She designed and led a workshop called Rock Your Awesome, which encouraged 8- to 11-year-olds to celebrate their uniqueness.
Although Girls Rock Dallas is taking a break this year, Reagan says the two camps still share resources, such as gear and instruments.
Reagan says each camper writes an original song that she’ll perform at a public showcase Saturday at the Ridglea Room.
“Last year, I pretty much cried through the whole thing,” Reagan says, recalling how some of the girls went from being shy and not wanting anyone to look at them during practice to totally owning the stage. “It’s kind of magical to watch. A lot of them have never touched an instrument before.”
On Tuesday afternoon, several girls wearing ponytails and braids clapped and cheered in front of a stage inside Hill School while another sang karaoke. A few older girls sat on the floor talking or reading while others practiced dance moves and high kicks. Nearby lay a “Like a Girl” banner scrawled with an assortment of handwritten phrases.
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“Stay rad,” one of them read.
The youths are taught how to express their feelings about world events through art, poetry and songwriting, Reagan says. Older campers can also choose from electives such as advanced songwriting, branding and podcasting.
“We want them to be connected, you know, to the world,” she says. “And be world changers, really.”
A volunteer with messy, indigo-colored hair stood nearby as two of the campers tested their skills amid a row of metallic red drums lined up on the gym floor. Reagan says many of the volunteers are musicians, teachers or previous campers. Most are women.
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“We want the kids to see women in leadership and power so they have something to look forward to,” Reagan says while downing a bottle of Topo Chico donated by one of the group’s many sponsors.
She says Girls Rock started in Portland and now has an alliance of more than 100 camps worldwide.
“It’s really a movement,” she says. “It’s all about inclusion.”
The Fort Worth group has a CD release planned for October, and Reagan hopes the camp’s big takeaway is that the girls gain confidence because they’re often “taught to be small and not loud, or that it is bad if you’re loud and big in any sort of way.”