Natalie Walker | Photo credit: Will Austin
As a performer, Natalie Walker used to dream of inspiring just one little girl. Then she volunteered with Portland’s Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls and realized it was possible to create a space that encourages girls in ways that are too often reserved for boys. She and Holly Waits set out in 2008 to build a music empowerment program for girls in Seattle. Today, their camps serve girls and gender-nonconforming youth ages 8–17, as well as adults. “We focus on expanding our ideas of what we can do, regardless of gender identity,” says Walker.
Ten years into the program, they are now seeing former campers releasing independent albums and studying music in college, and they’ve built a strong community of volunteers (many of them alumni) and partner programs that meet kids where they are and provide consistent, repeated exposure to female role models through music.
Rain City Rock Camp teaches guitar, bass, drums and vocal music as instruments to foster personal empowerment. During the course of a week, campers form a band, write a song and perform it on stage, while also attending workshops on songwriting, media literacy, self-defense and the history of women in music.
“I think music is a powerful tool for social change. It’s an experience we all share. Youth enter our program with very different life experiences, but they have in common a love for and connection with music,” says Walker. “Finding your voice through music is a relevant way to connect with youth to impact self-esteem, body image and personal identity.”
What do you want people to understand about your work?
In our programs, we foster creativity, self-esteem, leadership and teamwork. We’re not creating rock stars — just people who learn to rock at life. If they learn to play an instrument along the way, well, that’s a success, too.
Who is your personal hero?
My personal hero is my mom. She’s a librarian and executive director herself. She taught me so much about leadership, humility and social change. When I grow up, I want to be like her.
What’s one small action our readers can take in their own lives to make positive change happen?
I would say respect youth when they tell you what their pronouns are, and then use them correctly.
What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a youth that helped you succeed?
My guitar teacher when I was a teen was a real role model to me. She was so skilled, patient and kind with me, and also really strong and straightforward. I hope to model that kind of mentorship in the work that I do and to foster that in the volunteers I train.
Best advice for kids with big ambition?
It’s all about the journey and it’s all about the people you meet along the way. Success is not the destination, it’s the people and friendships. There is no art, no music, no success without human connection.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I’d like the power to, in a room full of people, instantly know all the ways we are connected. For example, to meet a stranger and know we both attended the same concert in 1998 or a lecture by the same professor.
If you could dine with anyone, living or dead, whom would that be and why?
Michelle Obama is such an inspiration for me and so many people. I would love to find out how she maintains a sense of self and where she finds her inspiration.
Fill in the blank:
What the world needs now is to listen to each other.