The Crusader Newspaper Group

100 teens from across America complete 2019 DDA

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Application window for 2020 Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA) mentoring program at Walt Disney World Resort now open at

Two Chicago-area students were among 100 students from across the country who just returned home from celebrating the conclusion of the 12th annual Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine. Yvette (Yvie) Cabrera from Crown Point, Indiana, and Isabel (Issy) Schwartz from Highland Park, Illinois, were the selected students from the Chicago area.

Yvie, who wants to eventually be a performing artist, said that she is open to new ideas, and that she thought coming to DDA would open more opportunities for her in the future. “Ten years from now, I would like for people to look up to me as a person who never gave up,” Yvie told the Crusader, as she explained that she was bullied when she was younger.

Issy, who wants to be an educator, learned much from the speakers. “I was amazed at all the different jobs that the speakers held,” she said. “I learned that even if you try something and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad.”

The weekend wrapped up with an emotional commencement ceremony featuring inspirational speeches by Walt Disney World Resort President George A. Kalogridis and television-radio personality Steve Harvey.

At a speech during the weekend, Harvey urged the students to follow their dreams. “Education is important, but it’s not the most important thing,” he said. “Nothing is more important than your dream. Your dream will spur you to get the education, explore the stuff that is in your imagination. I am a stone cold dreamer.” He talked about the magic of Disney World and how one can’t help but to be inspired. “It’s the Magic Kingdom for you to really dream,” he said, while admitting that some things in life might be challenging. “In order to have a life of convenience, you have to get real inconvenient.”

The teens, or Disney Dreamers as they are called, were selected from among thousands of applicants to participate in the four-day, once-in-a-lifetime educational mentoring program that takes place annually at Walt Disney World Resort.

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Lucas Davis from Cibolo, Texas, engages in an Imagineering/engineering workshop during DDA. (Photo by Todd Anderson)

Since its inception in 2007, more than 1,200 students have participated in the career-discovery journey that is Disney Dreamers Academy. Students are inspired to discover new career opportunities, pursue their dreams and interact with participating celebrities and motivational speakers.

Disney Dreamers Academy is an important part of Disney’s commitment to helping the next generation of young people by inspiring them at a critical time in their development. The Disney Dreamers Academy theme is “Be100,” encouraging teens to be positive, to be “all in” and to carry what they learn back with them so they can achieve their full purpose and make a difference in the lives of others.

Along with a parent or guardian, each Disney Dreamer received an all-expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World Resort where they learned important networking skills, participated in hands-on career workshops and created fun memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Highlights of the 2019 event included:

  • Participation in the iconic Magic Kingdom parade, where Dreamers served as honorary grand marshals.
  • A Dumbo-themed welcome party before viewing Walt Disney Pictures’ live-action feature film, “Dumbo,” that opens this weekend.
  • Career-oriented workshops that provided students with hands-on experiences.
  • Interactions with professionals highlighting career paths ranging from medicine to entertainment to engineering and more.
  • Networking and dress-for-success sessions.
  • Mentoring by Walt Disney World executives, ESSENCE executives and other top professionals.
  • Motivational presentations and tips to help teens and their parents achieve success.
  • Celebrity panels featuring Marcus Scribner (ABC’s “Black-ish”); Ruth Carter (Academy Award-winning costume designer for “Black Panther”); Miles Brown (ABC’s “Black-ish”) and JD McCrary (voice of young Simba in Walt Disney Pictures’ “The Lion King” opening July 19).
  • Opportunities to make memories in the Walt Disney World theme parks.
Kynnedy Smith From
Kynnedy Smith from Shaker Heights, Ohio shows off her violin talent during Disney Dreamers Academy commencement at Walt Disney World Resort on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The 12th annual Disney Dreamers Academy, taking place March 21-24, 2019 is a career-inspiration program for distinguished high school students from across the U.S. (Todd Anderson, photographer)
Academy Award Winner
Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth Carter is honored with a “Mousecar” for her work on “Black Panther” during Be 100 Conversations With on Saturday, March 23, 2019. The 12th annual Disney Dreamers Academy, taking place March 21-24, 2019, is a career-inspiration program for distinguished high school students from across the U.S. (Gregg Newton, photographer)
(L to R) Vice President at Walt Disney World Resort Tracey Powell, Chef Jeff Henderson, talent management executive Afrika Lander, Essence CEO Richelieu Dennis; Jasmine Bell from Charlotte, N.C.; Anthony Juba-Richardson from Winter Garden, Fla.; Rachel Clinton from Manhattan Beach, Calif.; and Kynnedy Smith from Shaker Heights, Ohio; pose for a photo at Disney Dreamers Career Open Mouse. (Photo by Harrison Cooney)

“This is among the most rewarding events we host at Walt Disney World,” said Tracey D. Powell, Walt Disney World Resort vice president and Disney Dreamers Academy executive champion. “Seeing firsthand how these teens are impacted over the course of a few days is an incredible experience and reminder of why we remain committed to this event.”

“My hope is these Disney Dreamers realize there are no limits to what they can achieve,” said Steve Harvey. “All the amazing people they had the chance to hear from this weekend had to start somewhere, and I am excited to see where the dreams of these 100 students take them. That is why I enjoy partnering with Disney on this program every year.”

Steve Harvey poses
Steve Harvey poses for a selfie with Disney Dreamers during commencement on Sunday, March 24, 2019. The 12th annual Disney Dreamers Academy, taking place March 21-24, 2019 at Walt Disney World Resort is a career-inspiration program for distinguished high school students from across the U.S. (Gregg Newton, photographer)
PARENTS PRESENTED THEIR Dreamers with class rings during the Disney Dreamers Academy commencement. (Photo by Gregg Newton)

“After engaging face to face with these 100 teens, I am amazed by the amount of talent and potential they’ve demonstrated,” said Michelle Ebanks, chief executive officer of ESSENCE Communications Inc. “At ESSENCE, we embrace the mission of inspiring the next generation of leaders and expect this group to take what they learned at Disney Dreamers Academy and share it with others in their communities and beyond.”

Applications are now open for the 2020 event, which will take place next March at Walt Disney World. High school students ages 13-19 can apply at Students apply by answering a series of essay questions about their personal stories, the influential people in their lives and their dreams for the future. The final 100 participants are selected by a panel of judges.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book info, [email protected]

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