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Carolina Youth Project's Rock Camp

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Campers applaud during the Rock Camp showcase on July 20, 2019 at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. Girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming youth formed bands and created an original song they performed at the showcase and also participated in workshops focusing on a variety of topics like gender, sexuality, anti-racism, self-defense, and media literacy. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

The Carolina Youth Action Project's Rock Camp took place July 15-19th at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. The week long camp was open to girls, trans youth, and gender non conforming youth ages 9-18 in South Carolina and provided leadership development workshops focusing on a variety of topics like gender, sexuality, anti-racism, self-defense, and media literacy.

Throughout the week campers also learned guitar, keyboard, drums and other instruments, formed bands and wrote an original song they performed on Saturday, July 20th in their annual showcase for friends, family and members of the community. 

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Amelia Lawall, 13, of Charleston plays the drums at a band practice session during the Rock Camp on July 18, 2019 at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. Girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming youth participate in workshops and also form bands throughout the week and perform their original songs for the community. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

 Youth Initiatives Organizer, Ariel Eure says the campers are what makes the program so unique. 

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From left, Percy Looper,13, of West Ashley, Felix Condon,14, of Charleston, Gabe Dunlevy,14, of Mt. Pleasant and Ren Pundt,12, of Charleston relax during the Rock Camp on July 17, 2019 at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. The week long music camp caters to girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming youth and ended with a showcase for the community. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

“The young people here are some of the freest young people I’ve ever seen in my life,” Eure said. 

“They’re really here to live fully and authentically in their identities, in their expression they build really loving and supporting relationships with each other and they’re able to be themselves in ways they’re often not able to be in the world.” 

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Sophie Hollis, 15, of Charleston performs during the Rock Camp showcase on July 20, 2019 at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. Girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming youth formed bands and created an original song they performed at the showcase and also participated in workshops focusing on a variety of topics like gender, sexuality, anti-racism, self-defense, and media literacy. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

While music is a large component of the camp, their mission is also to encourage young people to get involved with issues and politics relevant to them in their community. Members of the Youth Leader Institute and campers were encouraged to build their original songs around two youth-led campaigns, Safer Schools without SROs and Sex Education Beyond Abstinence.  

“It’s really important for us that camp is not just a place for folx to create music and create art together, but to really be politicized so that they’re able to build the bonds that they need to sustain political movement work from now into the future,” Eure said. 

As a youth leader, 17 year-old Jamison Fordham, not only teaches bass during the week, but he also builds connections with the campers, and participates in seminars with other members of the Youth Leader Institute to practice facilitation skills and work on their campaigns. 

“It’s just a really big learning experience,” Fordham said. 

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Youth leader, Jamison Fordham,17, says a tearful goodbye to fellow youth leaders who are graduating during the Rock Camp showcase on July 20, 2019 at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. "Girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming youth formed bands and created an original song they performed at the showcase and also participated in workshops focusing on a variety of topics like gender, sexuality, anti-racism, self-defense, and media literacy. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

Some campers have little to no music experience when the arrive and by the end of camp they’re performing as a band for the annual showcase. 

“It’s really empowering to see what they’re capable of,” said volunteer and keyboard instructor, Loni Lewis.

For many campers including, 15-year old Connor Smith the “like minded people” and community is what keeps them coming back.  

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Campers say goodbye after the Rock Camp showcase on July 20, 2019 at the Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. Girls, trans youth, and gender nonconforming youth formed bands and created an original song they performed at the showcase and also participated in workshops focusing on a variety of topics like gender, sexuality, anti-racism, self-defense, and media literacy. Sylvia Jarrus/Staff

“It’s nice to just be with people and make music with them.”