Robert Reid introduced Melissa Larkin, Co-founder and Director of Darkspark, this morning. Melissa is a vocalist and songwriter with an impressive resume. Darkspark received  assistance from our National Committee for two projects in 2017 and 2019. Melissa was here this morning to tell us about that project and what's coming up for Darkspark.
Melissa began with a thank-you for our donation, which came at a critical point in time and has helped launch them on to new heights. She also gave us some background on Darkspark. They started in 2013 and ran on and off until 2016 when they were incorporated. Melissa and her partner D'ari Lisle, a music producer, were asked to teach a history unit at the Quinte Mohawk School - a cross cultural look at colonialism which challenged grade 7 and 8 students to express themselves through song and digital story telling. The program caught the attention of the Federal Government and they received funding to travel to 16 locations across Canada to replicate the program in 2017 and 2018, and the program became Four Directions. The instruction was intergenerational, with an elder always present. The 5 day program challenged students to create 11 short documentaries and 48 songs which were shared millions of times on social media. Our National Committee contributed to the Tyendinaga stop on the tour.
Why song and digital storytelling? Melissa that kids are addicted to pop culture, so why not harness that and turn it toward social change.  The students talked about many issues and turned them into songs - a natural fit.
Then came Throw Down Your Arms (, a project about gun violence and youth in cooperation with Students on Ice. Run out of Ottawa, 80 kids spent two weeks on a ship in Canada's Arctic, where Darkspark set up a recording studio and recorded songs about the youths' experience.  Fortunately for Darkspark, two youth from Chicago sponsored by the Obama Foundation were on board, as well as ambassadors for the Foundation.  That connection let to the next project - Versions ( The National Committee also contributed to this project.
Versioning (which began in Jamaica) is a common practice in Rap and Hip-Hop, where a musician lays down a beat track and then other artists build on that base with vocals or other instrumentation. The focus of the music for Versions will be racism and anti-discrimination. This ambitious program had to be radically changed because of Covid.  Instead of meeting physically, 30 youth 16 to 24 years of age will participate in a 5 day virtual summit, then have monthly meetings during a 12 month fellowship.  Famous artists will be helping out and acting as mentors, and Band Lab is a partner helping with technology. This ambitious project is in development right now. Darkspark will leverage how music connects people, creating a docuseries and an anti-racism tool kit for educators.
Darkspark has grown from a small local initiative to a multi-country internationally lauded organization. In 2019 they received the International Innovation Award from the United Nations. Truly an impressive group that our Club has been privileged to be a part of.
Greg M - What is your selection process?
This developed organically with the Four Directions Project, and the gun violence project selection process was informed by the youth we were working with.
Bill E - What is the measured impact?
Four Directions was formally evaluated.  Students deemed it 'life changing' and said 'this was the first time I heard about colonialism issues in Canada'. Many of the youth involved have changed life goals, choosing to pursue studies in social justice and similar areas of study.
Greta - How many Canadian youth are involved in Versions? Where does the name Darkspark come from?
15 of the 30 youth in Versions will be Canadian. Darkspark came from another project called Darklark.  Given the focus of the education, the idea of a Spark in the Dark seemed appropriate.
Robert - Where do you get funds?
From multiple sources - the government, the Red Cross, but mainly from fundraising and grant writing, and reaching out to Clubs like ours.  We are working toward charitable status. The Kingston Community Foundation has a link. (Melissa also specifically thanked Elizabeth Cohoe for promoting our Club's support - Melissa says 'you were the spark')
John G - Who helps you?
We have a small permanent staff, and a volunteer board who really help with grant writing.
Greg Mumford thanked Melissa for her presentation today. Youth learning about themselves and their history really increases there self confidence and Darkspark is helping so much.