Quiana Parks on Kicking Cancer's Ass And DJ For A Cure
Quiana Parks is no stranger to putting up one hell of a fight—11 years cancer-free, and entering a brand-new decade (she’s 30 and stoked!), this NYC-based artist is nothing if not resilient. Now at the helm of her own non-profit, DJ For A Cure, Parks has her sights set on making an impact long-term: by raising money for cancer research charities and providing her own testimony as example. What’s more, she’s expanding her own repertoire (both artistically and otherwise) and defining herself as an artist in the process.
We sat down with Parks to talk DJ For A Cure, the unDone Project, and pursuing your passions (whatever they may be). Peep the full interview below, and stay tuned for her Friday playlist, coming later this month.
I would love to start with DJ For A Cure—I know you’re a cancer survivor, which is incredible, and I’m wondering what prompted you to start a whole non-profit?
Cool. Yeah, I’m a cancer survivor, it’s been 11 years now since I had my cancer. I started DJ-ing four years ago and during that time I had an issue with speaking out about being a cancer survivor, although a lot of my friends said I should for obvious reasons with testimony and all that. So I met Robin Roberts at Good Morning America when I went with DJ Kiss and I spoke to her about it and she encouraged me to speak out and you know do something about it and tell other people and make other people aware of what I had gone through. I was only 19-years-old when I was diagnosed with cancer. And you know I’m DJ-ing all these parties and there are a lot of young people at these parties who are unaware that I had cancer and also unaware that they could get cancer or that their friends and family could get cancer. So that’s really when I decided to start doing charity events; DJ For A Cure came about and the first one went so well I was like, “Damn we gotta do a lot more.”
Dope. When was that first show?
I think February of 2014 was the first art and mix show we did. I DJ-ed along with DJ Kiss, DJ Jeff, Kalkutta, Austin Millz, and we had Chef Roble as our host. It was a really good show.
Cool. What’s the process like for putting one of those together? How many do you want to host a year?
Yeah, last year was pretty crazy for me so we didn’t do that much. I did a lot of charity work for other people and their events. Also, for DJ For A Cure I like to donate my time and that’s a part of it, but for the most part we just do them when we can. This year we have one coming up and it’ll be my second time donating my birthday. So I’ll be donating my birthday to a charity and we will be raising money for that charity of my choice and then also spreading the word about blood cancer.
Wow. So you said at first it was hard to get personal and talk about your cancer with other people. How has that been since you started DJ For A Cure and started being more open to talking about your experience?
It’s been interesting. In the beginning it was really cool—I realized how inspiring it could be for other people. It kind of humbled me. And then it got difficult because I started to meet some patients and you know everyone’s story didn’t end as well as mine did. So that was difficult to deal with, you know, meeting people that are here one day and then aren’t anymore. That kind of put me at a hault. But I picked myself back up. I met this young lady Anita and she was diagnosed with blood cancer, the same as mine and you know she was 26-years-old at the time and she’s been married and had her first child. She really encouraged me and I wanted to do something for her. And I felt selfish saying to myself I can’t deal with them passing away, when they’re the ones passing away. I mean, how selfish is that? It’s been an interesting ride emotionally but we are here.
Do you feel like your overall outlook on life has been affected by your experience?
Oh completely. I think having cancer taught me how to get up on the really bad days. Because you know you don’t have a choice but to fight. A lot of people used to ask me what encouraged me to fight. During that time it was honestly…just to live. [laughs] I didn’t have a choice. It was like, “Do you wanna live? Then you need to go to chemo.” [laughs] It just became routine. The same reason you get up and go to school, you know? Because you have to. It felt like something that I had to do. Like I said, it definitely taught me how to get up on the bad days and keep pushing, you know. It’s not over until it’s over.
Can you talk more about how you first started DJ-ing?
Well, it wasn’t that foreign to me because my dad was a DJ. So you know I was very familiar with the DJ world although I wasn’t that interested in it at the time. And I kind of went through this depressed stage. You know everyone has their moment and I had a moment of depression. I was doing freelance graphic design at the time and helping some people with their graphics and their brands. And a friend of mine was a DJ in New York and he was like, “You know what I think, in order for you to understand my brand you should come out with me and see what I do. And also I think you just need to get out the house!” I planned on going out with him for one night and one night turned into three months of every day going out, literally Monday through Sunday I was out at the club in Meatpacking, meeting the DJs, being in the DJ booth, and seeing how awesome that lifestyle was. Then eventually I was like well I should practice, I should do this.
Let’s talk about your other art and the unDone Project.
I’ve been an artist my whole life. That was my first love; I’ve been painting, drawing, and sketching, and all that for as long as I could remember. I actually went to school for art, so it wasn’t anything unfamiliar to me, it was just something I was really shy about showing publicly. One day I just decided I should show my art and be proud of it. And I think as an artist you should be proud of what you do. So I created the unDone Project…or theory I guess. I’d call it more of a theory. It’s just work I created while I was in this mindset of feeling undone. By becoming a DJ, trying to figure out who I am as a woman and a person. I just didn’t feel like I figured it all out, I don’t think we ever do, but at that time I felt really, really lost when I started the project. I thought there was so much more to me with what I wanted to do creatively and how I saw myself and what I wanted to be. And that’s where the name came from, because I felt undone. And then with my sketches and paintings too, I never really wanted to finish them. I didn’t like calling something finished; I always liked the idea of coming back to it. And yeah that’s where the name came from. And now I’m doing all these shows and it’s fun.
Now that it’s been awhile since you started that project, do you feel any closer to being your complete self—are you any less ‘undone’ so to speak?
Actually yeah. I turned 30 this year and I was very happy about that. I made it! [laughs] Turning 30 definitely put me in a transition mode where I was like trying to figure out, “What did I complete by the age of 30? I don’t know who I am, why am I still thinking about or caring what people think?” And you’re 30 bitch! You’re here, you beat cancer, and you’re a DJ now. You know I kind of went through this whole transition and now, I just realized this like two weeks ago—I don’t feel close to the word ‘undone’ anymore. Not that I feel ‘done’, but I definitely feel more complete than I used to. There is so much more to me that I don’t know and I have so many questions about curiosities that I haven’t tried to seek. But now it’s like, I’m not curious anymore because I’ve figured it out. Well—some things. But at the moment I feel complete.
What upcoming projects do you have in 2017?
I’m actually running a DJ For A Cure campaign starting on February 20. So we’ll be raising money and donating my birthday for a charity this year. And then the last day of the campaign is on my birthday, March 20, so we are having a big birthday party and I’m really excited about that. Also, I’m learning the electric guitar which I’m really excited about—I’m super, super excited about that because that’s something I’ll be including in my DJ sets in the future. I’m just doing a whole bunch of projects and different things and doing what I want; just seeing how it works out.
Images via Laura Gauch
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