We're excited to connect with our alumni through our Darlington Connects series. Today we hear from Doug Whatley (’02), who lives in Atlanta and runs Sparks United, an agency that provides enrichments through various after-school programs. He recently authored a best-selling book titled “Dope Life No Hype: A Workbook on Gratefulness.”
“My Darlington experience was unmatched and life changing,” said Doug. “I was exposed to the world without having to leave Rome, Georgia.”
Doug enrolled at Darlington in middle school. “I was the only black student in my class and I was blessed by that experience,” he said. “Darlington taught me to maneuver through life as unapologetically me.”
He played in the band, was on the football and diving teams, and participated in community service as well as The Darlington Players.
After graduating, Doug attended Clark Atlanta University and studied history education.
“I thought I would teach because I had such great teachers at Darlington: Mr. Powell, Mr. King, Mr. Saunders, but Mr. Neville was my favorite,” Doug shared. “To this day, I try to wear cardigans and loafers and channel my inner Mr. Neville.”
After college, Doug’s career took a different direction than what he expected as he began to write and produce songs in the music industry in Atlanta. He worked with artists like Streetwize, Lloyd and Keyshia Cole, and his music was featured on the TV series “Cherish the Day” and “Star.”
As much fun as the music business was for Doug, by age 30 he wanted to discover more about himself. He enrolled at North Carolina College of Theology and completed his master’s in biblical studies.
“Finding yourself and being true to yourself is a blessing, and I try to only do what is interesting to me,” he said.
Doug returned to Atlanta and was working for Coca Cola when a good friend asked him to volunteer and teach piano to underserved students. That experience led to the start of Sparks United, an artistic agency that provides enrichments through various after-school programs. The agency currently has 13 full-time staff members who work with 300-500 students who are learning drums, dance, music and culinary arts.
Doug says that participating in extracurricular activities at Darlington taught him the soft skills needed to succeed as an adult. “At Sparks United, we give our students the opportunity to learn those soft skills, like how to finish something, work within parameters, and make and keep good relationships, which is key,” he said.
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Doug saw many of his friends struggling. “I wanted to do something to help them; that’s where I got the idea for my book,” he said.
“Dope Life, No Hype: a Workbook on Gratefulness” was released just for family and friends several months ago, but Doug received such a great response he decided to take it to Amazon for the masses. The book is doing very well and has obtained “bestseller” status.
“You can’t be depressed and grateful at the same time,” he said. “Life is a whole lot better than you might think if you just change your focus.”
Doug is thrilled to be a part of Darlington Connects and he welcomes the opportunity to talk with fellow alumni and students. To connect with Doug, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you a Darlington alum (or do you know one) with an interesting career or community involvement? We'd love to spotlight you in a future blog! Please email email@example.com if you are interested in being featured.