Girls Rock Detroit

By Sherrilynn Colley

I first heard about Girls Rock Detroit (GRD) when I was taking music management courses at Detroit Institute for Music Education (DIME). One of the instructors asked if I would be interested in presenting a Leadership workshop at their program and a band from RL Recordings had just chosen it as one of their charities to support. From the minute I walked in, I fell in love with the program and the warm, safe comfortable “home” they had created for the girls.

Girls Rock Detroit is a nonprofit organization founded in 2014 by Rosalind Hartigan, Melissa Coppola, and Willa Adamo. They met at Girls! Rock Chicago and brought the program to Detroit which is now supported by 150 volunteers.


These camps are part of Girls Rock Alliance which is a movement that is made up of organizations across the world to support youth leadership, social justice, community awareness, positive self-esteem and a sense of belonging using music education and performance. Through the arts and creative expressions, they strive to be inclusive and support all youth and help them care for and value one another. All are welcome regardless of their socio-economic background, religion, race, gender identity, sexuality or ethnicity.

“GRD is committed to empowering marginalized genders through music education and seeks to continue this work year-round so that there is always a safe space for youth to feel confident in expressing their true selves, their true feelings, their true voices” explains Ashley Moseley, the Director of Operations. Moseley adds “The value of our program as a whole is that it instills the idea that EVERYONE has something to say, and we create a safe space for them to say it. Empowering campers through creative expression is one of the most important things we strive for and the driving force behind our movement”.

A typical day at camp starts with a morning assembly, workshop, instrument lesson and then lunch. After lunch, they have a guest performance, another workshop, band practice, and an afternoon assembly. Workshops include a variety of subjects such as vocal techniques, recording, managing equipment, self-confidence, leadership skills, and women’s rock history. The campers choose to learn guitar, bass, drums, keyboard or DJ skills with no experience necessary. All instruments are provided free of charge and campers spend the week working together on an original song. At the end of the week, each band will perform their original songs on stage at a GRD showcase. The girls get to experience what it is like to play in a professional setting at a prominent Detroit music venue in front of enthusiastic friends and family.
Ashley remembers her first camp session when she was a volunteer. “I was 35 years old and new to playing music, even though it had been a lifelong dream of mine. At that point, it seemed very far from my reach. After a week of volunteering at Girls Rock Detroit, suddenly something changed inside of me. I felt confident and that what I had to say was important. Through supporting the youth at camp and listening to them, encouraging them, somehow it worked on me too! I emerged from camp just like so many of our campers; empowered, overjoyed and confident. I am now Girls Rock Detroit’s Director of Operations and the lead singer and guitarist of the band Bourbon Squirrel. There are so many memories and people that I have watched grow through the years from campers to volunteers to supporters! I love what we do!” If other adults are interested in becoming Rock Stars or just want to have a “rockin’ good time”, they can join one of their fundraisers Adult Rock Camp.

Brooke Harris is a board member and volunteer at GRD, and a board member of the International organization, Girls Rock Camp Alliance. She believes that the program is “a self-esteem camp disguised as rock and roll camp” and that “the true mission of the camp is to inspire the campers to realize that they are brilliant and capable and can do anything, whether it’s music-related or not.”. When I asked her what her favorite experience was at Girls Rock Detroit she said,
“All of them. I cry at every showcase. In my first year of volunteering, I was paired up with a band of 8-year-olds called The Sparkle Girls. The keyboardist was painfully shy. It was hard to get her to say anything at all during group discussions for the first half of camp. By showcase time, though, she got up on stage and not only rocked out her part on keys but also did a silly dance at the end. It was also amazing watching the older campers all sing along with their chorus and being so uplifting and supportive of them.”


I had the opportunity to talk to some of the campers after the showcase at DIME. Maddie said that her favorite part of the camp was being a DJ and learning a little about working with software like Serato DJ Pro. I am sure her answer had a lot to do with the instructors, which included Stacey Hotwaxx Hale, the “Godmother of House” who will be featured in an upcoming article for Music Player Magazine. With music legends like Stacey around to teach the girls, no wonder Maddie set her goals high after attending GRD. “I liked talking with the other campers, too. I was a singer and a keyboardist the first time I came to camp and the second time I was a DJ. I want to become a famous singer, songwriter, DJ, and producer, like nationally famous, not just locally famous. When I am I won’t forget about the friends I’ve made at GRD.”


What’s next for Girls Rock Detroit? They are seeking a permanent “forever” home so that they can continue their camps and offer year-round support and programming to the girls. Sustainable funding is required if they hope to continue to grow and serve. There is a constant need for funding as many girls rely on donations to attend the camp. Any contributions or sponsorships are appreciated and you can check out their website for details.

I attended one of GRD’s fundraising brainstorm sessions, each person introduced themselves and told everyone why they were here to support. One parent of a child with autism gave a passionate summary of how this program has affected her child. “This is my child’s favorite week of the year. For one week my child is happy, and gets to express herself creatively in a place where she feels supported, valued and accepted.” This simple statement truly impacted me, and the program impressed me so much that I am partnering with GRD and joining the Girls Rock Camp Alliance to bring this program to my city. Watch out for Girls Rock Windsor 2020 and someday a Detroit/Windsor International Girls Rock Showcase!


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