“The Little Mermaid’’ star joins R&B singer H.E.R., actors Marsai Martin and Jalyn Hall, among other luminaries, for the annual mentoring event at Walt Disney World Resort; Event fosters the dreams of 100 students from under-represented communities around the nation at The Most Magical Place on Earth
DDA kicks off this year’s celebration with a welcoming event for students, parents and chaperones
The Little Mermaid is taking Disney Dreamers Academy “under the sea’’ this week.
Five-time Grammy-nominated singer Halle Bailey, who will play the lead role of Ariel in the upcoming live-action remake of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” is the Disney Dreamers Academy celebrity ambassador for this year’s event at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Bailey is one of several Hollywood stars participating in the annual mentoring program by Walt Disney World Resort that brings 100 students from around the country for an immersive career-inspiring weekend at The Most Magical Place on Earth. Some of the other celebrities include R&B singing sensation H.E.R., plus actors Marsai Martin (ABC show “black-ish”), and Jalyn Hall (feature film “Till’’).
As the celebrity ambassador, Bailey headlines the list of celebrities and will be a mentor and advocate during the Thursday through Sunday, March 23 through March 26, event, which is designed by Walt Disney World Resort to broaden career awareness and create exclusive enrichment opportunities for high school students from diverse communities around the country.
Bailey will share personal insights with the students, drawing from her own unique experiences, like playing the title character in the “The Little Mermaid.” In addition to her role as Ariel, she has starred in television shows and movies such as “Grown-ish,” “Let It Shine,” and “Last Holiday.”
Here are details about the other key celebrity participants:
- H.E.R., singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who is one of the fastest rising young stars in R&B music. Winner of an Academy Award, an Emmy and five Grammys, she has also recently launched her acting career, starring as Belle in the recent ABC special Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration.She will join the all-star cast of “The Color Purple” musical film adaptation as “Squeak” later this year.
- Marsai Martin, best known for her role as Diane Johnson on the ABC sitcom “black-ish.” Martin also starred in the 2019 comedy film “Little,” which she also produced, making her the youngest person ever to produce a studio film. Time Magazine named Martin on its “Time 100 Next.”
- Jalyn Hall, an actor who had a breakout performance as Emmett Till in the 2022 biographical film “Till.”
- Dominique Thorne, an up-and-coming actress, who recently starred as Riri Williams in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s feature film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Up next is her TV series “Ironheart’’ on Disney+.
- Priah Ferguson,who played scene-stealing little sister Erica Sinclair on Netflix’s series “Stranger Things.”
The welcoming event held on March 23 was filled with inspirational messages for both parents and students from Tracey Powell, Disney Dreamers Academy Executive Champion, who advised the students to learn to be mentored and inspired. “You demonstrated a passion for your perspective career fields, as doctors, scientists, actors and poets,” she said. “Walk, run and ride to your own purpose of greatness.”
DDA 2011 alum Princeton Parker and Disney Parks media representative enthralled the assembly with his comments of inspiration, as well: “I’m standing in dreams that I didn’t even know to dream. What I experienced in 2011 changed my life,” he told the crowd of 100 students and others. “My mama told me to apply. Boy you ain’t getting up from this table until you fill out this application.” The experience changed my life, my mind and “the way I saw myself. That’s why you are in this room. You are around other dreamers, and it changes the way you see yourself.”
Celebrity Ambassador Bailey said: “I am excited to be welcomed into this role. I felt the spirit of family, and you can be the hero of your own dreams. You are uniquely a Disney dreamer and should see all kinds of possibilities of what the future can hold for you. If it weren’t for my mentors, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m excited to work with you and be a mentor for you as you find your passions in life.”
Via virtual salutations, greats like Patti LaBelle, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Ne-Yo, Lupita Nyong’o, Questlove, Trevor Jackson, Toni and Tamar Braxton, and last year’s Celebrity Ambassador Kelly Rowland, among others, welcomed and encouraged the students—this after the celebration kicked off with the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and drum majors in a spectacular entrance into the meeting room.
It was noted that DDA has partnered with HBCU’s with Disney on the Yard, which is dedicated to building a community for HBCU alumni working across The Walt Disney Company and providing meaningful opportunities for students. The initiative has strengthened its commitment to the development of internships, mentorship programs and career growth opportunities for HBCU graduates and Black talent in all levels.
During the four-day event, the celebrities will be joined by several other speakers, including Disney executives and cast members, community leaders, business executives and educators, who will also nurture and inspire the students.
The impactful program will introduce the Disney Dreamers to an array of new opportunities, such as sessions teaching valuable life tools, leadership skills, effective communication techniques and networking strategies.
Students will also go through in-depth workshops in a variety of disciplines aligned with their dreams. These workshops introduce the Disney Dreamers to diverse career paths within business, entertainment and sciences, including career opportunities within The Walt Disney Company.
The Disney Dreamers Academy program is an important part of Disney’s commitment to supporting diverse communities by encouraging the next generation to think big and to use what they learn in their relentless pursuit of their dreams in hopes of making a difference in the lives of others.
Each year, the Disney Dreamers are selected from thousands of applicants who answer essay questions about their personal stories and dreams for the future. The students and a parent or guardian enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida for the four-day event.
Over the years, Disney Dreamers Academy has inspired more than 1,400 students from across the country. Each year, graduates have gone on to become doctors, engineers, performing artists, entrepreneurs and more, and some have transitioned into mentors to the Disney Dreamers who followed them.
For more information, visit DisneyDreamersAcademy.com. Regular updates about Disney Dreamers Academy are also available on social media at Facebook.com/DisneyDreamersAcademy, Twitter.com/DreamersAcademy and Instagram.com/disneydreamersacademy as well at the Chicago Crusader Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago (lulu.com) or email: [email protected].