August 7, 2017

An Interview with YEAH! Executive Director Sarah Bandy

Welcome to the sixth installment of These My Nominated Bitches! Today's bitch was nominated by my friend, and fellow bitch, Jessica Maloan. Take it away, Jessica!


I met Sarah through our mutual friends from Columbia, SC, who were visiting a few summers ago. Sarah had just moved to Nashville. I instantly liked her and her warm personality. I would run into her at shows and art events in the neighborhood, and she would visit my small shop on Porter Road. One particularly shitty day, I went to Portland Brew and saw sweet Sarah working behind the counter. I guess she could tell that I was having a rough time because she comped my coffee and it turned my entire day around. That's what she does.

In the few short years that she has been a Nashville resident, she has made incredible strides with YEAH! (Youth Empowerment through Arts and Humanities) and Girls Rock Camp. Sarah is always supporting and encouraging other women. She can play a number of instruments and has incredible style. Nashville is lucky to have her. -- Jessica

What is your job title and where do you work?

I'm the Executive Director of YEAH! (Youth Empowerment through Arts and Humanities)!

When did you first learn about this field of work? How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

My first experience at Rock Camp was at Southern Girls Rock ‘n Roll Camp (SGRRC) eight summers ago. I had never picked up an instrument, never sung besides in the car, and I was convinced that making music was for my idols. For other people, for the experts, for the rock stars, but definitely not for me. I visited a friend in Murfreesboro and she convinced me to help assist in drums at SGRRC although I had never picked up sticks in my life. The first day of camp, I didn’t know anyone and felt a lot like the ten-year-olds that I was supposed to be leading – nervous and unprepared, but longing to feel a part of the palpable positivity and energy flooding the hallways. I peeked into a tiny window and saw a classroom of girls, all sizes and shapes and skin colors and gender expressions, all learning the chord progression to “I Love Rock & Roll” by Joan Jett with wide bright eyes and I finally felt like I had found an entry point to the intersection of the things that I’ve always been passionate about: community building, empowering youth to take up space, feminism, and rock and roll. I started playing music for the first time the day I got back to my hometown of Charleston, SC and worked with five other organizers to found Girls Rock Charleston, now Charleston Youth Action Project.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I think learning to make a budget was a huge thing for me. I was always so against getting deep into budgets because it seems like the least punk thing on the planet to worry about finances and make spreadsheets about them, but it’s actually been pretty empowering to feel like I know what’s going on financially with our non-profit (plus, lol, it’s my job). Also, someone told me once a few years ago that you’re not always going to be best friends with everyone you work with, and that’s okay, and that they are incredibly valuable to the work even if you don’t agree on some things. We have a rule at camp called, “Default to Trust,” which means that you assume the best intentions of everyone that’s making camp happen, whether you agree with them or not. I try to take that with me every day.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned or that helped improve the way you work?

It seems kind of basic, but I read on a silly blog somewhere the rule of, “Touch Once.” Basically it means that if you open an email, and you can answer it in three minutes or less, to just go ahead and damn answer it instead of putting it off. I’m bad about saying, “Oh, that’s quick, I’ll dig into this grant which will take hours and hours instead,” marking the email as Unread to get to later, and then having tons of Unread easy-to-tackle emails in my inbox that are hella overwhelming. The 'Touch Once' rule actually does make me work better. Also, I worked at the Notso Hostel in my hometown of Charleston, SC and we used to have to work a shift for free if we were five minutes late. It made me realize that being punctual is a sign of respect for someone else’s time and now I’m usually embarrassingly early to things, but I do think it’s made me a much better friend and worker.

What would you do with two more hours a day?

I would spend more time playing with my drone machine and loop pedal, doing watercolors, going on walks with friends, watering my plants, FaceTiming faraway besties, and meditating.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

I love doing yoga. I think sometimes working out feels super intimidating, especially for plus-size people like me, because people think there has to be a goal at the end. Yoga isn’t about goals for me - it’s just a way to move and breathe and be inside my body and it helps my brain sooo much. Making space to be solo and think and make mistakes and feel powerful makes me a more tender and aware person, partner, and friend, and I get that through my yoga practice.

What’s a fear that keeps you up at night?

I am always afraid that I’m not doing enough and that I’m not doing it in the best way. I hope that we continue to challenge ourselves and our youth to create a more inclusive community of music-makers and artists and have a blast doing it. I hope the youth who have participated in Rock Camp trust themselves and their personal power and value the voices of the generation after them. I hope that DIY spaces and all-ages venues crop up everywhere, from rural Shelbyville to the center of Nashville. I hope that young people remember that their reflection is only a fraction of who they are. I hope that Ladies Rock Camp participants walk into their office jobs every day holding their heads high and standing up for their inner rockstar. I hope that governmental institutions prioritize the voices of marginalized people and funnel money into the arts and local organizations that work for equity.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

I think that everyone thinks that YEAH begins and ends with Rock Camp. But Hailey Rowe works all year to make badass programming happen (like Ladies Rock Camp), and Jess Hawthorne is always making sure we’re all good with our taxes and brainstorming connections, and I’m writing grants and reaching out to foundations and thinking big-picture, trying to loop in new partners to what we do. We all have full-time jobs year-round making YEAH happen, it’s just our summer camps that are the most forward-facing.

What does self care look like in your life?

I think self-care for me these past few years is learning how to say no. I historically over-commit and then I do a half-ass job at a ton of things, but when I am strategic about what I bring into my life and commit to, I’m so much happier and better at what I get to do.

What helps when you’re stuck? Do you have a motto or quote that inspires/motivates you?

One of my favorite poems is “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. My best friend and I have tattoos on our hands of wild geese, and when we put our hands together it makes a V formation.

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

Are there any women who helped pave the way for your success?

Rock Camp only works because of the men, women, and gender non-conforming people that make it happen together. This community in Middle Tennessee that has been mentoring youth for fifteen years constantly blows my mind, and the new people that find a family in the positive work of mentorship inspire all of us to keep doing what we do. According to last year’s surveys, the vast majority of our volunteers are repeat volunteers (73%!), and 1 in 5 volunteers is a former camper. Creating safe spaces for women and gender non-conforming youth and adults means having difficult conversations, staying educated, looking at privilege, and facing the myriad of very real obstacles that our community navigates daily. Through Rock Camp, we see that creativity can help dissipate the fear and self-doubt that we all walk around with - and collaborating helps us feel like we aren't alone in that work. Any success I have is due to the hard work of everyone that makes our programs so badass.

Women that inspire me daily include Patti Smith, Nina Simone, Wendy Carlos, Margaret Atwood, Mary Oliver, Alice Coltrane, and my rad mailwoman.

I do want to give a shoutout to my mom here. She is the best lady I’ve ever met, loves to car-dance to “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, makes killer french toast, and is just so good through and through. I remember when I was a freshman in college, I had a lil freakout moment second semester (ie: Who am I? Do I even want to be a Ceramics major, wtf? How the hell am I going to pay for these loans later? Is store-brand Kahlua in my coffee every morning helping or hurting me?) and she drove four hours to my tiny new-to-me college town, got a cheap motel room, bought a literal ton of Twix bars, and we watched figure skating on the busted television until we fell asleep. That meant so much to me. I don’t know if I’ve ever even told her, but I do think that that action encouraged me so much and paved the way for me to keep going through adversity. Like, there’s this beautiful current of understanding between people that is always there, even when you’re confused and upset and want to give up. I think about it a lot and seek to provide that moment for other people as much as I can.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

My deep fam knows that if I’m having a weird day or I’m sick, putting on the Ocean episodes of any David Attenborough show will get my vibe right. My other favorite show is Mr. Show with Bob and David - it’s genius. Also, I could and would eat an entire watermelon in one sitting. It’s the perfect food, in every way.

All photos courtesy of Sarah Bandy

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Pastry Chef, Rebekah Turshen!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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