Meg Zakany

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Meg Zakany (Photo by Ryan Starinsky).

When explaining her experience running Grrrls Rock Columbus – a rock camp that teaches instruments to a group of 12 to 18-year-old girls, trans, and gender variant youths – Meg Zakany is often met with comments like, “I’m sure there’s a lot of fighting.” The assumption exists that an all-girls’ space must be rife with competition and rampant emotions. This isn’t the case. Zakany and others help campers create their own powerful spaces for positive self-expression.

Zakany grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, a small town that sits a little over an hour east of Columbus. Her first memories of the city come from working in the North Market as a kid, selling salsas for her dad, an entrepreneur who started Jose Madrid Salsa. Being so near the convention center and downtown, she encountered incredibly diverse groups of people – and this difference excited her. The potential of diversity is a big part of what inspired her to eventually move to Columbus.

After attending high school in the Cincinnati area, Zakany applied to Ohio State University. There she majored in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS), becoming involved in the campus community by creating WISE – or the Women’s Initiative for Strength and Empowerment – and assisting other nonprofits throughout the city that aided immigrant populations.

Zakany’s dedication to people of color and diversity continues through her current work with Grrrls Rock Columbus and as a Youth Services Specialist at Columbus Library. We discussed how her dedication to social justice issues and passion for music align to create important and needed spaces for self-expression and trust:

Meg Zakany from Zanesville, Ohio:

🎧 Listen (2:55)
“Zakany is a Hungarian name, so that’s part of my family, it’s where they come from – kind of like an immigrant family… Actually my family had a Mexican American restaurant downtown like a block away from the pottery store called Fioriware. The restaurant was called Zak’s. It still exists, but my dad and my uncle started it and kind of brought our culture to Zanesville.”

Community and organizing in Columbus:

🎧 Listen (3:12)
“I remember driving through and just being like ‘Wow, this is the big city, it’s so diverse.’ Zanesville is not diverse at all it’s pretty isolated… I feel like that’s definitely a big part of me is coming from a small town.”
“I was really interested when I moved to Columbus to figure out who are all the nonprofits and where I see myself fitting in… I just kind of immerse myself in things. I started teaching English… I thought this is so important, I’m finally connecting to something I feel passionate about. Anything that came from diverse people, people of color, lower income people is what I feel comfortable with, because I feel like I come from that background too.”
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Campers rock out at their final performance during Grrrls Rock Columbus in 2016 – an organization Zakany helped cofound four years ago.

Grrrls Rock Columbus:

🎧 Listen (3:27)
“I felt like I couldn’t pick up an instrument when I was young because I felt it was only for guys… I never saw myself in that…”
“[The camp] is more action-oriented…Yes, you do learn a lot of music. For example they have two hours of lessons every day and two hours of band practice. But the rest of the time we have local performers come in and we try to show them through example that yes, people who look like you are playing music and expressing themselves in this way and this can be an outlet for you too.”
“It’s the most powerful space and everyone finds their voice and finds a way to speak up and to explore themselves more and express that. We made that space. We all made that at camp together. It’s a special, special week.”
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Zakany plays in the band didi – pictured here in a photo taken on their most recent tour. From left to right: Kevin Bilapka Arbelaez (guitar), Meg Zakany (guitar/vocals), Sheena McGrath (drums), Leslie Shimizu (bass/vocals).

An organizer, a musician, and a Chicana:

🎧  Listen (3:22)
“Part of my identity is being an organizer. I’ve always just sought out ways to work together with other people to make some sort of impact on youth and the community. And I’m a musician and artist… that’s a huge part of me. I would say Chicana, because it’s a part I’m always proud of, but at the same time, being mixed and in a small town and then Columbus, it’s an interesting border.”
“It’s just very comforting to have people who already get you, especially when you’re writing music which is connecting with this deep, deep part. For me it’s the one way I let out these intimate experiences, so I have to be able to trust the people I’m making music with.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).

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