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Girls Rock Campaign Boston builds confidence through music

Posted by Christina Jedra  May 7, 2013 02:38 PM

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Girls Rock Campaign Boston’s Executive Director Nora Allen-Wiles and Program Director Hilken Mancini. Photo: Lauren Moquin

When Nora Allen-Wiles interned and Hilken Mancini volunteered for Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp For Girls in Portland, Oregon, in 2007, they not only admired the supportive nature of female musicians in the Portland area, they came up with an idea of their own.

As the two got talking they discovered that they both were from the same area: Allen-Wiles is from Somerville and Mancini is from Jamaica Plain. Inspired by the idea of building self-esteem in girls in their city, the two founded Girls Rock Campaign Boston in 2010. 

“As a girl, you’re not encouraged to say ‘I’m awesome.’ It’s okay for a boy to say it, but when a girl says it, they’re put down,” Mancini said.

Although these summer sessions offer an opportunity to learn an instrument and play in a band, the sessions are really about offering the girls a new perspective. In the room that GRCB rents in Spontaneous Celebration, at 45 Danforth St., there are mirrors along the wall covered in images of strong female role models such as Missy Elliot and the band Sleater-Kinney. 

“We want the opportunity for girls to collaborate and feel good about themselves. When you are a girl, the only real opportunity you have to do this is on the soccer team. Being an artsy girl, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to feel proud of yourself,” Mancini said.

Holding sessions for girls ages 8-12 and 8-17 — and for women 21 and over — the Girls Rock Campaignuses a range of approaches towards the music sessions.

“The younger kids are shy and get louder as time goes by. They do change by the end of the session, but they have a harder time expressing it their selves,” Allen-Wiles said. “As a younger girl we are scared to raise our hand in class because we are afraid of being wrong, but with GRCB we want girls to think ‘I can play in front of all of these people! I can do this science project!’”

“Some parents will tell us that they are having an easier time making friends too,” Mancini said.

“With the 21 and older sessions, it’s easier to see the change because they can express it. When they come in, we have to break down everything that’s built up over the years,” Allen-Wiles said.

“They come in being put down because they hadn’t had kids yet and they’re ‘supposed to by that age’ or don’t have the right job,” Mancini said, “Punk rock is saying I don’t have to do that; I don’t have to do this or make a certain amount of money”. 

GRCB has seen bands that have formed in three days and now tour together and bands that simply found a new love for playing music, but it is the mindset that keeps participants coming back. With a waiting list for this summer’s 8-12 age group session, Allen-Wiles and Macini find themselves trying to plan on expanding the two summer sessions to three for next summer. The interest in the Boston area has even got the two striving to get their own place for the futureand to hold an after school program like Portland’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp For Girls. 

This summer, GRCB will continue to engage in instrument instruction, collaborate with other girls, learn how to screen print, and gain the courage to play at the often sold out showcase at Brighton Music Hall. 

“They learn that you don’t have to be a legend, you can be yourself. You are empowered in that,” Allen-Wiles said. 

For more information, go the Girls Rock Boston Campaign website at http://girlsrockboston.org.

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