The Crusader Newspaper Group

Disney Dreamers Academy back with inspiring students

2023 Disney Dreamers Academy

Walt Disney World Resort will host its 16th year of the Disney Dreamers Academy.

I have covered this event on behalf of the Chicago Crusader since 2014. It showcases local area youth with an educational mentorship program “that aims to broaden career awareness and create exclusive opportunities for Black students and teens from underrepresented communities across America.”

This year, while there are not any students participating who are directly in the Crusader’s readership area, it’s important to show what local students are doing.

Kevin Konopacki

Kevin Konopacki is a senior at Northridge Preparatory School in Niles, Illinois, where he plays the cello, lacrosse and competes on the Math Team. He was recently selected to perform at Carnegie Hall through the Honors Performance Series; is a National Honors Society member and an Illinois State Scholar. He is committed to studying Mechanical Engineering in college in the hopes of becoming a Disney Imagineer.

In his essay to DDA, he said his Polish grandfather was a source of inspiration. “Growing up, he faced the uncertainty of survival, as he and his family were evicted from their home in Poland during the Second World War. After years of living in a work camp, they were finally able to immigrate to the United States and begin the ‘American Dream.’ His story reminds me to fight for my dreams and motivates me never to quit until my dream becomes my reality.”

His thoughts on becoming a mechanical engineer: “I have always been interested in creating things with my hands, whether it is deconstructing LEGO sets as a kid and building some sort of off-road vehicle or creating an electric telegraph, similar to the one designed by Samuel Morse.

“As a child I remember the joy and wonder of Disney magic, and I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to get behind the scenes and learn how the magic brings the parks to life.”

Ren Olson

Another student Ren Olson lives in Carmel, Indiana, and is a senior at Carmel High School, who focuses on visual arts and is co-president of his school’s Artist Association. He is an aspiring story artist in animation and hopes to attend art school for character animation.

“My dream is to be a story lead or director on animated feature films! I believe that animation is one of the most influential forms of storytelling, and by pushing it to new levels both conceptually and visually, we can create a brighter tomorrow.”

He added: “I applied to this program with the hopes of meeting industry professionals and getting my foot in the door in a highly competitive career path. I think a strong point in my essay was discussing the importance of animation in my personal life. I’ve spent my whole life watching every film I could get my hands on, and it’s shaped not only how I view art but how I look at the world.”

This young man touched on diversity in films. “Animation combines technology and creativity to allow filmmakers to form environments and characters where every decision is intentional. Up until extremely recently, a huge majority of these characters were white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight, and a significant portion of the leads are male.

“There is a huge problem with under-representation of minority groups in animated media. When creatives have tried to fix this by telling stories from more diverse perspectives or including minority characters, they have been met with opposition by both companies and certain audiences claiming that they’re pushing a political agenda.

“This creates a barrier between the artist and the intentionality of their work, and potentially undermines the themes they want to create. Art is meant to be thought provoking and original and, by eliminating the stigma surrounding the inclusion of minority characters storytellers behind the scenes, the improvement of animation can be achieved. Allowing people—especially young people—to see characters who reflect traits that they have is powerful.”

Well, there you have it—the future.

Quick DDA Fact Sheet: 100 students take part in this power-packed, transformational four-day experience, where they are introduced to an array of new immersions designed to continue to foster the dreams of young leaders beyond imagination.

The Program is an important part of Disney’s commitment to supporting diverse communities, by encouraging the next generation of students to think big and to carry what they learn back with them, so they can relentlessly pursue their dreams and make a difference in the lives of others.

Disney Dreamers Academy runs from April 3 through April 7. For information, visit

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