DCF: Who Are You?
Lauren Taylor, Founder + Director, Defend Yourself and Safe Bars. We teach skills for stopping harassment, abuse, and assault. Our promise to you: Take our classes and you’ll have more safety, more confidence, more freedom, more fun! For my bio, let’s just say I’m a teacher, resistor, advocate and warrior princess. I’m passionate about a world free of gender-based violence and people becoming their full selves. I love chocolate, justice, cats, and DC (not necessarily in that order).
DCF: Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
LT: When I took my first Empowerment Self-Defense class, I found it life-changing! With less fear, I could live more of the life I wanted and be more myself. What I love about teaching with Defend Yourself is offering that opportunity to our students, and witnessing their transformations. I also love being invited into so many communities, connecting with so many people from all walks of life.
DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
LT: My primary mentors have been my students, who are creative and energetic. I’m always learning from them. I also am supported by many, many activists trying to end gender-based violence and make the world a better place for everyone.
DCF: What’s your happy place?
LT: Home, with cats. Or walking in Rock Creek Park. I love DC, my hometown (DCF: Me too!!). I’m also happy in the classroom! Even though we deal with difficult topics — sexual assault, harassment, abuse, stalking, etc. — we have fun! We laugh. I love connecting with my students, listening deeply, meeting them where they are, walking with them as they do their work.
DCF: Where do you get your energy?
LT: This is going to sound repetitive, but I really get my energy from my students! They face so much oppression — yet they energetically seek ways to empower themselves and transform the world.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
LT: I’m not sure what the concept of balance really is. I meditate, I lie around with my cats, I work out, I walk in the park, I hang out with my friends. I try not to work ALL the time, but my work really is fun!
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
LT: Economic stability. Self-employed, mission-driven folks like me don’t have a regular paycheck, paid leave, access to group health insurance, a retirement fund. I don’t need a high standard of living, but I do wish I felt more secure. (DCF: Agreed, people doing great work should have access to more stability).
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
LT: The struggles are not as a woman working to empower women (and others targeted for harassment, abuse, and assault) — it’s that our work is misunderstood. Many people think Empowerment Self-Defense requires you to be an athlete or a martial artist. Our programs are for EVERYONE. Or they think that martial artists or police can teach what we do. That’s not true. So much of what we teach is assertiveness and boundary-setting — being able to express what you want. It’s not just kicking and hitting. It’s really empowerment.
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
LT: As an activist, I thought “business” was a dirty word. Now I wish I had learned more, because the tools and principles of business can help any kind of organization succeed.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
LT: I’ve had hard times, but nothing I’d describe as “failure.” I learn, I change, I get up and keep working. (DCF: I believe the only failure is not trying – all other “failures” are just redirects which is why I ask this question, if we didn’t fail, we couldn’t succeed)
DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
LT: I love to watch my students grow, learn, and take charge of their lives! Some of them become Defend Yourself teachers, and I love watching them find their place in the classroom. I feel very warm and fuzzy when (former) students tell me how our workshops have changed their lives.
DCF: What are you Currently Conquering?
LT: Everything is growing super fast! Defend Yourself is busy, and bringing on more teachers to meet the demand. This is great news! Safe Bars, which teaches bystander intervention to bar staffs so they can step up when they see unwanted sexual aggression, is booming, both here in DC and around the country. I’m traveling a lot to conduct train-the-trainer workshops, so people in other cities can start their own Safe Bars programs. And with the rise in overt hate, we’ve been teaching a lot of Bystander Intervention, so people know what to do when they see someone being treated — or spoken about — badly. And now I’m writing a book about overcoming the internal barriers to standing up for ourselves! That’s what being passionate about your work will do!
DCF: Let’s get Social (Media)!!