A high school experiential learning program, an unlikely trip to the Arctic and the power of song. Here’s what happens when two Chicago youth set off on a life-changing journey…
Learn more about the three organizations that made this journey possible, Embarc, Students on Ice and Darkspark, and read Vicki and Bruce’s thoughts about the importance of cross-border collaboration below.
A Borderless Partnership
Bruce Heyman and Vicki Heyman
The rich, vital connection and history shared between the United States and Canada is currently strained by the actions of the Trump administration. But this doesn’t stop everyday Canadians and Americans from locking arms across borders to help secure the future of our youth and our earth.
Very few people have the opportunity to go to the Arctic, but everyone has the opportunity to reach out to their neighbor, explore their inner voice, take risks, and cross the established and invisible borders that confine our cities and our countries. Every community has borders. Take a risk and cross one.
That is what Cassy Rivera and Latarick Foreman did when they crossed the border into Canada and sailed the Arctic last summer. Here is their story and the stories of the Canadian and American changemakers who worked together to make this journey and their transformation possible.
While serving the Obama administration in Canada, we met Geoff Green, founder and CEO of Students on Ice (SOI), an organization that takes youth from around the world on life changing journeys to the Polar Regions. We were so inspired by Geoff’s work that when he asked us to join the SOI August 2017 expedition, we jumped at the chance while also recognizing this as a unique opportunity to bring Americans and Canadians together. Before arriving in Canada, we passionately supported the work of Imran Khan, co-founder and CEO of Embarc, a three-year program that provides community-driven, experienced-based learning opportunities to low-income Chicago high school students. Imran and Geoff both empower youth to activate on their dreams, and we knew that we needed to connect them. So we worked with Geoff and Imran to bring Cassy and Latarick, two Chicago high school Embarc students, with us to the North.
The trip was a super-charged frenetic learning experience and the nature was awe-inspiring. One hundred and twenty youth and 80 adults—Inuit elders, scientists, artists, teachers, psychologists, government officials—were on the ship as it traveled the waters of the far north. Everyone in this floating international community was pushed outside of their comfort zones as we all worked to create a connected, diverse family. The stories that we shared with each other revealed that we are all human beings tackling the challenges of everyday life.
We realized that no matter our background—whether from a bustling city, a fly-in community in the far North, or Main Street, USA—we all face challenges of finding our strengths, our place, and our purpose, and we all need the help of our neighbors to achieve our full potential.
As we floated on our shared water, contained by our shared earth, under our shared sky, we each found the freedom to explore our passions and activate on our gifts. Which is what happened when Cassy and Latarick met D’Ari Lisle and Melissa Larkin, the founders of Darkspark, a Canadian arts organization that uses songwriting and recording to engage youth and promote cross-cultural understanding. Darkspark was invited onboard to build a mobile recording studio to assist youth in reflecting on this experience. Drawn to this programming, Cassy and Latarick took a risk and discovered that they each have an amazing talent with lyric and song. After SOI, they were invited to Toronto to produce their songs with D’Ari & Mel (songs can be found on Spotify and Apple Music). This life-changing, inspirational story was captured in a short documentary found at lifeintolyrics.org.
We don’t know how Cassy and Latarick’s lives will unfold, but their experience in the Arctic has already changed their perspectives. Whether it’s being youth ambassadors on the importance of taking risks, acting on their new environmental knowledge by recycling more and encouraging others to do the same, or touching someone’s life with their music, their lives and their communities have already changed for the better. So while Canadian schools are halting field trips that cross the border due to the erratic immigration policies of the Trump administration, Cassy and Latarick witnessed first hand the transformative power that transcending borders can harness. And they are now paying that forward.
The United States, through the actions of President Donald Trump, is testing the strength of our bonds with Canada, one of our oldest and most reliable friends. All of us who are familiar with this relationship know that this is a dangerous game that nobody will win. In a time like this, we are especially thankful for organizations such as SOI, Embarc, and Darkspark that exist to erase borders and advance our relationship, our youth, and our shared future. Cassy and Latarick visited a unique part of our world and learned life-changing lessons on the power of storytelling and the importance of our environment. Most importantly, they learned the value of crossing borders.