The Crusader Newspaper Group

Inspiration on full tap for Chicago area students at Disney Dreamers Academy

2023 Disney Dreamers Academy

I attended Disney Dreamers Academy, which ran from March 22 through March 26, at Walt Disney World and followed all the exciting adventures of students from the Chicago area on behalf of the Crusader.

DDA is an educational mentoring program, where 100 Black students and teens from under-represented communities across America broaden their career awareness and create meaningful lifelong opportunities.

Nyla Bishop is a 16-year-old sophomore at Homewood Flossmoor High School. She is heavily involved in the film and theatre program, is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars, NAACP, and the National Thespian Society. Nyla’s goal is to major in college in film and minor technical theatre.

“I am currently in film class in my school, and every Monday we put on a show. I have been the lightboard operator for three shows,” Nyla said. She mentioned attending a summer camp in 2021 and gaining a greater interest in film. Her deep dive during the Academy was most important. “It was a big experience, and the most exciting part was we got to hear actor/rapper Ice T on Zoom. He told us if you have a passion, you can’t be lazy. You have to really work at it and want it.”

Aramia Gutierrez is a senior at Hammond Academy of Science and Tech in Hammond, Indiana. She balances a life of both STEM studies and performing arts and is completing EMT certification.

She is the head writer/director of the show “Dream” for her school. She’s committed to changing representation for Latinas in media. “Whether it’s with a mic, in the classroom, or my writing, I want to be loud and proud about who I am: a first-generation Mexican American.”

Amaria’s deep dive was in the entertainment field, and she was appreciative of the Academy’s makeup.

The Academy merged different stories of “people like me who come from low-income communities,” Aramia said. She is also involved in STEM and wants to study plant biology.

Bradley Ross Jackson is a junior at Normal Community High School and a very accomplished young man. He is committed to philanthropy, and social and racial justice. He serves in different capacities in the local NAACP chapter. One of his more impressive achievements this year was his being awarded with an NAACP Image Award for youth activism.

At the time, Bradley said, “I am humbled and honored to receive this prestigious award. Advocating for racial and social justice is simply part of my DNA, as I enjoy making a positive difference in the lives of others.”

Actress Halle Bailey’s story about dealing with racism around her portrayal of “The Little Mermaid” reinforced the importance of “my racial and social justice work as the President of the NAACP’s Illinois Youth Council,” Bradley said.

During the Academy, Bradley was the Grand Marshal for the parade, received the State Farm Good Neighbor Award and the Sprite Leadership Excellence Award. He plans to attend either Morehouse College, Howard University, or Harvard University and gave kudos to the Crusader for covering DDA.

Tamaya McNeal is 16 and attends Minooka Community High School. She plans to become a neurosurgeon. “I find the brain very interesting, and I hope to save lives. My biggest accomplishment was getting the opportunity to study psychology at Cornell University over the summer and being the youngest in the class.”

She respected the advice given by the guest speakers and the alums. “Being able to hear all of their stories and how they got to where they are was super motivational, because a lot of them have felt the way I feel—whether it was feeling not smart enough or feeling like not belonging because the people around me might be ‘smarter’ or ‘better.’

“They taught me that if I’m in the room, it’s because I’m meant to be there, and it doesn’t matter what other people say. The only thing that really matters is having confidence within myself.”

Nora Sun is a senior at Walter Payton Prep and is committed to increasing cognitive diversity in science research. She founded/directs #TalariaSummerInstitute and is involved in the ATHENA By Women In STEM initiative, which works with underserved students.

“The most important workshop that I attended was one led by Serena McCalla, Ph.D. Dr. McCalla has been called the nation’s “godmother of science research.” Over the past 12 years, she has single-handedly transformed New York’s Jericho High School’s science research program to one of the top programs in the nation.

“She helps students get into cognitive research projects, and it was cool to see someone doing something similar to my interests.” Nora explained cognitive diversity in science research. “It’s basically a way to describe how many factors can affect health outcomes. When the team is diverse, every person will approach the problem in a different way, for greater results.”

Ava Adams is a student from Atlanta who was born in Chicago and is a freshman at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy. She is passionate about animation. “My dream career is in animation where I can help provide entertainment for others and use my artistic skills.” She’s been interested in animation for years. “I love drawing. When I saw my first animated movie and realized how happy it makes me, I knew that I would like to help other young kids experience that.”

She is involved in Jack and Jill of America, among other distinguished organizations and offered advice to other students. “My reason for applying for this outstanding program was to gain further experience and knowledge of my interests and showcase my artistic abilities.” She advised aspiring Dreamers for 2023: “Go ahead and do it, and you will learn a lot. It’s a great experience.”

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I would like to thank my Disney Dreamers Academy guide, Rodney Graham, Front Office Guest Experience Manager, Caribbean Beach Resort, for making sure that my experience was a good one and that my commitments to the Academy and the students were met. He was a gracious and accommodating guide.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

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 ( or email: [email protected].

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