Painter, DJ, and cancer survivor Quiana Parks talks making her passion a full-time job and coping with illness

I rarely come across people my age who aren’t multi-hyphenates. The internet—plus millennial curiosity—has made it easier than ever to master multiple skills. Now, we have an influx of young people who not only multitask, but can handle each venture with excellence. This ability is especially evident in places like New York City, where people are maneuvering through day jobs for the sake of security, and living as rappers, DJs, artists, models, and more during their time off. Some of these creative people end up getting to pursue their various passions full-time. Quiana Parks, artist, DJ, and cancer survivor, is one of those people.

Born in New Jersey, Quiana lives in New York City and works as a painter and a curator for some of the hottest events around the city. Her paintings have been exhibited at Miami Art Basel, and she been a DJ for brands from Nike to Vogue to Tiffany & Co. to Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment. Still, Parks isn’t focused on appearances—she’s as honest as can be about her past and present struggles, which include cancer and depression. In a brief yet raw post on Instagram, where Parks often shares her paintings and more, the artist talked about having everything she needs but still feeling down. When we discussed those feelings on the phone, she said “It’s something I’ve been dealing with for a really long time since I was younger…I think a lot of people might beat themselves up, and also always wonder, ‘What are the answers?’” 

Parks has found her answer to dealing with those negative thoughts and emotions, telling me, “The way I get through it is with my art and talking it out. I just believe everyone needs an outlet.” In fact, Quiana’s passion for painting grew while she was battling lymphoma. After establishing herself as an artist and DJ, she started her nonprofit organization, DJ for A Cure, which aims to bring more attention to blood cancer among the Black community.

Quiana and I spoke about making a living from doing the things you lovedealing with cancer; being friends with director, designer, DJ, and professional flygirl Vashtie; and more. Read our conversation below.

HelloGiggles (HG): I read that you get to live for a living, meaning that the activities you love fund your life. I was wondering how you got to that point, and what advice you have for other people who are trying to get to that point.

Quiana Parks (QP): I’ve worked really hard and was broke for a long time. I started DJing almost six years ago. And when I started, I quit my job and went full force. I reached out to any kind of resource that I had for a gig—to people that I didn’t know. I would literally go to the Lower East Side from bar to bar, asking people if I could come and DJ. And when I quit my job, I also gave up my apartment and moved back in with my mom. Any time somebody asked me, “Can you come to DJ this? But it’s not paying,” I did it. For the first year, I literally said no to no one. Everything, every gig, I said yes to it. And I would sleep in the Port Authority some nights.

So it was pretty tough in the beginning, but it definitely paid off a year later. I moved to Brooklyn and things got a lot easier. But once I decided I was going to start DJing, that was it. I was just like, “This is my passion, so I’m just going to go full force and just trust that God will have my back.”

HG: Who are some of your favorite female DJs right now?

QP: Damn, I mean, that’s really hard to bring it down to just a few. Definitely Salon, and then my best friend, Vashtie.

HG: How did you link up with Vashtie?

QP: I met Vashtie a few years ago. I used to work with DJ Kish as her assistant slash intern, and I was a big fan of Vashtie’s. When she came to this event where Kish was the DJ, I told her that I was a big fan and we’ve been cool since then.

HG: What kind of music do you like to incorporate into your DJ sets?

QP: Everything. I really love hip-hop and I like to include rock and pop. I use a lot of snippets or quotes from different people in my music. What I’ve been doing a lot in the past year or so is playing music from the 50s and 60s, like The Temptations, and mixing it with music that’s out now.

HG: Cancer is something that would scare anyone. How did you navigate that diagnosis? What message would you like to share about it now?

QP: I was 19 years old when I got diagnosed. It was right after my first semester in college, and it was devastating. But my family was there for me the whole time. My best friend, LaToya, she had my back the entire time. We would just hang out all day. So having that support was pretty awesome. But the experience was very scary.

I think it really hit me after the cancer was gone, to be honest with you, though. When I went into remission, my doctor told me there was a ninety percent chance it was going to come back, and then I got really afraid, and was living in that fear for a really long time. But my family definitely was a huge support, and my friends were supportive. I don’t think I would have made it without them.

HG: What advice do you have to anyone who is going through something similar?

QP: I would say just have faith. Have faith and be open with yourself, and communicate with the people that are around you because your family and your friends are there to support and love you. If you’re not honest about how you’re feeling…you can’t fix something that you don’t know is broken, you know? And I feel like a lot of people try to stay stronger than they actually feel, and sometimes that can be damaging. So I would just say to communicate and be faithful.

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