Welcome to our series BRN GRL WIN. Every Friday, we introduce you to movers and shakers who are KILLING the game. These are women of color we admire and are inspired by, and we want you to be too! (If you know someone who would be great for BRN GRL WIN, let us know!)
DJ AND URBAN PLANNER
If you've been to any of our past events then Tara Duvivier, also known as DJ Tara, is a familiar face. BRN GRL SPK's resident DJ is a favorite in our community.
Tara knows how to get the party started, but she's also all about events that bring people together. She's one of the hosts behind the Makossa Cookout, a bi-coastal block party that's been going strong for 8 years and was voted one of Time Out NY's 20 Best Summertime Parties in NYC in 2014.
Tara is also an urban planner who is deeply committed to preserving New York City's culture and the communities that have been a part of it for decades.
The reason we chose her for this week's BRN GRL WIN? This Boss Babe is working to merge her two areas of expertise and create a community where neighbors, club owners, and the government can all work together as one. That's a cause we can get behind. (And tbh, we just really love her!)
Scroll down to read our conversation with Tara.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I'm a DJ and a certified urban planner. I work for a non-profit that develops affordable housing in NYC, and I moonlight a few nights a week as a DJ. I also have a podcast [called] Life of the Party, where I talk about the parts of nightlife people don't always get to see.
What inspired you to pursue this kind of work?
I was working a corporate job and thinking about my future there and all I could see were pointless meetings. I didn’t want that to be my life. I decided to think long and hard about what I wanted to do and figured out that grad school would probably help me do that, so I applied to a bunch of Public Administration programs. I ended up getting into one but when I went to the orientation, I met a student in the school’s urban planning program and realized that was more my speed and I switched!
What do you think the importance of your work is in today's political and social climate?
The work is REALLY important. I grew up in a New York City that, while not the safest, allowed immigrant families to live near each other in decent housing. I am a member of one of those families. Most of my family immigrated to NYC from Haiti within a 10 year period. I had extended family no farther than a 10 minute drive from where I was raised. My parents didn’t have to worry about childcare, which saved them money, which went to my education and eventually, led to us leaving the city for the suburbs. I also knew a New York City where people could afford to live alone, or with one roommate, and work a part time job while pursuing their art.
Today, that place doesn’t exist. If your parents aren’t paying your rent, you can’t intern here to get ahead in your career because you need to earn an income that internships don’t provide. You can’t work on your craft because you need to work to pay high rent.
In a time where gentrification is something affecting every major city in the world, quality affordable housing is important now more than ever. We can have safer streets without pushing people further out to the margins. The people who contributed to [the things that] attract others to NYC today are fighting to be able to remain here because of racist housing policies and inequalities in wealth building that prevented them from purchasing in their neighborhoods.
Now they are being pushed out and it’s not right. The city overall will suffer as a result. It'll become bland and less attractive, and I can’t let my city go out like that!
What kind of a response have you gotten from people regarding your work?
People are a little surprised because they think I DJ full time but unfortunately, I don’t. I can’t afford to. People don’t get the correlation between the non-profit work and DJing, but it’s clear to me.
Housing is one of our most basic needs. It is hard to be or do anything without a stable, safe place to rest your head, especially if you’re in a creative field where pay is not great or steady.
My work actually brings me some balance and reminds me that building affordable housing can allow for people to do so much. They can pursue their dreams and pay their bills. They can save for the next steps in their lives. I get to help people that way and I also get to help people have a good time on the dance floor. It’s a dream!
What are some of the things you’re most passionate about in life?
Music and buildings. One of my favorite self-care activities is laying on my couch and listening to new tunes off my laptop and making it rain in the iTunes store and on Bandcamp.
I’m also low-key obsessed with buildings. I love to walk around neighborhoods and look at building permits and architecture and when I’m in a car, all I want to do is look out the window and scan blocks for changes. That’s been happening quite a bit in the past few years in NYC, especially Brooklyn, where I’m from. So many changes.
How do you hope to grow in the future?
I hope to try and merge DJing with my urban planning even more. Rising property values puts our cultural institutions at risk and I’d like to see what I can do to help combat that. I’m talking specifically about nightlife. There’s been a lot of movement along policy to help bars and clubs and I’d love to be a part of that conversation and figure out ways neighbors, patrons, bar/club owners, landlords, and the government can work together.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
- If you want to work towards change in this world, you MUST find your passion. I don’t care what the issue is, it just has to fuel you to want to act. Don’t pick a cause because it sounds interesting or it’s the latest issue featured on the news. You have to think about what bothers you about this world and figure out why you want to help and how you plan to help. Otherwise, you’re wasting a lot of time.
- You happen to cities as much as they happen to you. I tell people this all the time. NYC is a tough place but that doesn’t mean you have to just sit back and take what the city gives you. Making your mark does not mean building hype with no substance. You will become forgettable. You can make an impact if you do the work.
- People are trash. All of us. Just try to not be trash. Try very hard every day.
What does BRN GRL WIN mean to you?
To me it means speaking your mind and making yourself be heard and seen. When we speak up and support each other, we win. There is an Audre Lorde quote I was reminded of this week (Thanks, Another Round Podcast!): “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.” Every time a Brown Girl uses her voice for change and for justice, fear loses and we win.
Anything else before we go?
Support people doing great things – not just on social media. Go to their events, pay the cover especially if it is small. It helps them live and do more!