by Joey Krzeminski | Photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Steffanie Rosalez is an advocate for self-expression and community, and she has successfully created a space where young women can discover themselves and a passion for music.
Originally from Honolulu, Rosalez graduated from Hope College with a degree in art and communications. Now, she works as program director of the Cook Arts Center (644 Grandville Ave. SW) and Girls Rock! Grand Rapids (GR!GR), a local branch of at the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international membership network of arts and social justice organizations geared toward young girls and non-gender conforming youth.
A musician herself, she was inspired to start GR!GR after she continually found music communities populated by the male ego.
“There were moments where I was putting together my rig for a performance, and then this person running sound would come up and ask my [male] bandmate instead of me about the rig I was putting together,” Rosalez expressed.
She quickly found herself in a space where she felt overwhelmed by the judgemental nature of the music scene and sought to cultivate a community where music was about self-expression and not competition.
When Rosalez discovered a Girls Rock! camp in Chicago, she was encouraged to bring the
community to Grand Rapids; she launched GR!GR as a program of the Grandville Avenue for the Arts & Humanities in 2013.
Campers ages 8-16 who join the program connect to each other and express themselves by creating their own bands over the course of a week. Each band is overlooked by a volunteer or band manager, and campers work together as they create their band logos, write lyrics, learn their instruments and participate in activities that promote body positivity and self-esteem. At the end of the week, GR!GR hosts a showcase during which each band performs an original song in front of a live audience at Wealthy Theatre, taking place this year on Aug. 19 at 3 p.m. The impact of GR!GR doesn’t end there; the program often receives requests to have campers perform after the week concludes, and many have played for Ladyfest GR, William Kelley Marks Lucy Foundation and more.
“It’s a huge change both for music and the environments in which we create and talk about music,” Rosalez said. “The first year we did it, I was blown away by how different it was because most of the times I’ve been creating music or shows it’s so male-dominated. Taking out that element completely changed the way I saw myself.”
Rosalez witnesses a huge shift in the GR!GR campers from the first year they came to camp; shy children find leadership positions and are free to express emotions and ask difficult questions. While the camp encourages students to lead, support others and find their strengths, the program allows them to express what society is conditioned to see as weaknesses; talking about feelings, asking questions and seeking help is encouraged.
While GR!GR primary focus is on creating a woman and girl-run community, men are welcome to work behind the scenes. Rosalez emphasizes that it is important that campers be allowed to take the lead in order to develop communication skills and grow.
While space is limited, GR!GR is open to all girls and gender non-conforming youth who want to participate and offers a sliding scale to eliminate any finanical barriers for campers and their families. The program even offers support to girls who want to continue learning their instruments after camp concludes with the opportunity to receive scholarships to go toward their year-round music education.
Elizabeth Grathwol is the volunteer coordinator for GR!GR, and credits Rosalez with the success of the program.
“Steff is an amazing person,” Grathwol commented. “Girls Rock was really her idea, it’s her baby. She’s so committed and organized. We have so many volunteers to train, she’s our anchor.”
To volunteer for this year’s GR!GR, taking place from Aug. 13-17, visit girlsrockgr.org. The Sixth Annual GR!GR showcase takes place on Aug. 19 at 3 p.m. at Wealthy Theatre. Admission is free.