By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
As they say, the show must go on. And for the 13th year, Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) is hosting 100 students from across the country to empower youth to Be 100 and make their dreams come true as part of the Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA). However, the difference this year is that the event is being held virtually over the next few weekends.
DDA Virtual Program Series is an all-new program inspired by Disney Dreamers Academy that’s been held annually since 2008 at WDW. Participants in the virtual series experience career and motivational content, weekly live interactive sessions and an online commencement celebration, which is set for December 12.
A great difference this year is that all students can participate in as many of the 14 career-focused “deep dives” as they choose. These include the following subjects, among others, natural sciences, education, theater and acting, dance, animal care, law careers, Imagineering, and aviation aeronautics taught by “Rocket with the Fletchers,” a married couple who is designing the first rocket ship to go to Mars. Myron Fletcher holds a double degree in Aerospace Engineering and Physics from Tuskegee University as well as a Masters in Engineering Management from Duke University. Tiera Fletcher holds a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT.
And another bonus this year is that all students will be offered a career externship experience. In previous DDA events, which I have covered for a number of years for the Crusader, only a few students were fortunate enough to secure post-DDA externships.
The event’s launch began the weekend of September 26, and about a dozen speakers welcomed the students via Zoom chats. Trevor Jackson of ABC’s “grown-ish,” and who a few years ago starred in a remake of “SuperFly,” encouraged the students. “Your drive, ability to persevere is inspiring,” he said. A surprise guest during the Zoom kickoff was Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, who plays the voice of the jazz musician in “Soul.” He said: “The part [in the movie] made me think creatively about my life,” telling the students “You should celebrate the brilliant and passionate you.”
Motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles echoed the theme. “You were born an original, don’t be a copy. Anything that you attach to the phrase ‘I am,’ you will eventually become. To #Be100, you have to build a level of certainty that says, I am ready, and I am going to succeed.”
Chef Jeff Henderson mentioned that many kids go to college living their parents’ dream, which isn’t wise. “We have to see the value of what we bring to the world,” he told the students while encouraging them to be champions in their own way.
Harlem and global fashion icon Dapper Dan also participated in a session. “We are getting young people to think globally. My relationship with the Gucci Changemakers program is to open doors and bring it forward and leave pathways for the next Dapper Dan. We have gifted young people.” The Gucci Changemakers program supports the company’s commitment to creating lasting social impact in diverse communities and within the fashion industry.
Award-winning singer Yolanda Adams, who is on the DDA board, also encouraged students. “Many youths just coast. You want to live and feel things. We encourage you to find your passion. You don’t have to get paid for it, but it’s wonderful when you do.” She added: “My passion is teaching, even though I sing.”
Brandi Harvey, founder of Beyond Her, an active wellness brand for women of color, encouraged the students. “Stop creating excuses or reasons about why you can’t create results in your life. To have a life of meaning, you need to produce results. Excuses are monuments to nothingness.”
During the “Medical Deep Dive” held via Zoom on October 3, a couple of the Chicago-area students who are participating in DDA listened in on a session led by Andrea Carroll Bullock, who is the Director of US Medical Communications at EMD Serono. EMD Serono is a biopharma business that develops and offers therapies for specialty-care conditions, like multiple sclerosis, infertility and cancer.
The five Chicago-area DDA participants [or Disney Dreamers] include Jeremiah Lewis and Jaden Maloney; Mary Catherine Hanafee-Laplante, from Mount Prospect, and Kennedy Crye from Joliet. Ariyana Irving is from Gary, Indiana.
Jeremiah wondered about a quick-turnaround COVID-19 vaccine. “I would advise that you continue to follow guidance of Dr. Anthony Fauci. It takes vigorous testing, and companies must understand the efficacy and safety of the drug,” said Bullock.
Mary Catherine asked about navigating and controlling drug prices. Bullock reminded her that “drug development takes time and effort, and that this factors into drug prices.”
Finally, Bullock spoke about obstacles for women of color in medicine: “No one can take your experience away from you. In my first hospital job, the patients questioned me, asking ‘are you a real nurse?’ and wondered how I knew certain information, because I didn’t look my age.”
She cautioned, however, those students looking into going into the medical field: “To be effective with patients, you need to take care of yourself.”
Sonia Jackson Myles is the President and CEO of the Sister Accord Foundation, which has three areas of focus: Educating girls and women; Enlightening girls and women of the Power of Sisterhood; and Eradicating bullying and violence against girls and women. She is a motivational speaker who regularly presents at DDA. During an “Entrepreneurship Deep Dive” held on October 10, she advised the students to keep a journal. Write your ideas down, she said. Jackson Myles left a prestigious corporate job to start her firm. “You have to be crazy enough to think that you can change the world with your dream,” she said. Her Sister Accord Tea Parties are held in the United States, China, South Africa, and Germany, among other countries, and the goal is to “touch one billion sisters’ lives—teaching them to love, respect and uplift each other.”
R&B singer Mario performed at the 2014 Sisters Accord Day Celebration held at Fountain Square in Cincinnati. He was chosen because he had shared with Jackson Myles that “he learned tools that enabled him to repair his relationship with his mother.”
MVPwork President/CEO Becky A. Davis joined the session and encouraged the students: “You have to live your purpose.” Davis’ coaching and consulting firm helps business owners accelerate their business models to make them more successful. Davis, as well, left corporate America to start her own firm, after she recovered from a life-altering medical scare.
A surprise guest, who was well received by the students, was 16-year-old Mikaila Ulmer, who around the age of 4 began selling lemonade from a stand and who is now the CEO of the successful “Me & The Bees Lemonade,” a freshly squeezed lemonade company. Her father encouraged her to take her disdain at being stung by a bee and turn it into an understanding about the nucleus of bees and their role in the ecosystem. Fast forward years later, and Mikaila appeared on Shark Tank and then eventually started selling her lemonade brand in Whole Foods.
Since she’s young, Mikaila says often people ask her parents about her company, as opposed to her. They overlook her because of her age, she said. She advised Disney Dreamers to “continue to be curious. You don’t know everything, but you have everything to learn.” There were so many questions from the students for Mikaila that she had to take them offline.
I will report more on the DDA Virtual Program Series in an upcoming column, as well as report on the virtual commencement exercise, which is always an emotional and rewarding event for the students and their family members.
For more information, visit DisneyDreamersAcademy.com.