By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Beginning March 8 and running through March 11, the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA) high school students gathered at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, as part of the 11th class of 100 students to be involved in DDA. DDA is sponsored by Disney World, Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine.
Saturday (March 10) workshops included Image Makeovers; Tied to Greatness; Raising A Disney Dreamer; and Be 100 Dreams/Meet the Real World. The roster of speakers and presenters included Brandi and Karli Harvey; Dr. Alex Ellis/Tied to Greatness; Dr. Steve Perry/Principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School; Sonia Jackson Myles of the Sister Accord; Gospel great Yolanda Adams; Dr. Jonathan Sprinkles/Your Connection Coach and Lisa Nichols of Motivating the Masses. During the “Image Makeovers” workshop, the female students received a string of pearls and pearls of wisdom about dressing for different situations. Brandi Harvey told the girls, “You have to start dressing for the life that you want.” She added that she looked at pearls as an example of the inner beauty coming to the outside.
In keeping with this year’s theme of #Be100, “The View’s” Sonny Hostin hosted a panel Saturday evening that featured a dynamo of celebrities including Ne-Yo; Jussie Smollett; the McClains—China, Lauren and Sierra; Miles Brown and Marsai Martin. Hostin kicked off with her idea of ‘being 100,’ which she said to her meant “Being the best and being authentic—following your dreams. Being excellent.”
The young Marsai, who plays Diane on “Black-ish,” says that her entire family packed up and moved from Dallas to Los Angeles, after the first season of the award-winning show, but there was initial hesitation. When the show was on hiatus, her family wondered just what they should do or, moreover, what Marsai should be doing as far as looking for other acting gigs. “We looked over many scripts, with a bunch of agents saying that there was nothing for a young, Black girl,” Marsai said. “These agents are no longer representing me, and I’m executive producing my own film within the upcoming months.” She added: “You have to turn your negatives into positives.”
The young man who plays her brother Jack on the show, Miles Brown, encouraged the group of 100 Dreamers and their parents: “Don’t let others tell you what you need to be.” He mentioned that he was a dancer first before getting into acting at a young age. Marsai, on the other hand, said that she grew up surrounded my music. “It was a natural talent.”
Also in keeping with the #Be100 and Walt Disney World theme, Marsai added that, “This is where the magic happens,” when referring to having an agent in Florida at the beginning of her career.
A woman who has designed costumes for more than 40 movies Ruth Carter, was also present to provide nuggets of wisdom for the Dreamers. Elated to learn the news about “Black Panther” recently hitting the $1 billion mark, Carter, who designed the costumes for the movie, talked about her initial fears of meeting with Marvel Studios. “I was really intimidated. They asked me to come here, so I thought that there must be something that I can bring to the table.” She said that right when she was about to relocate to Atlanta where the film was being shot half of her team quit. “There is no perfect journey,” she said.
In speaking about the designs presented in “Black Panther,” Carter added: “I wanted the Black Panther to be a superhero and an African King.” She mentioned that she researched African clothing by going to South Africa, but added that she does not sew. “I do not sew. I draw, but I have a team of 19 tailors, seamstresses and illustrators.”
Speaking about her longevity and work on such movies as “Do the Right Thing,” “School Daze,” “The Butler” and “Selma,” to name a few, Carter concluded: “When I would watch film credits, I figured out that there were more people behind the scenes than there were in front of the camera. There were not many Black female costume designers when I started out. I had to carve my own path. It’s about being persistent.”
Football great Emmitt Smith later told the crowd that as it pertains to their dreams: “It is only a dream until you write it down, then it becomes a goal. Talent is God’s gift to you; your service is your gift back to God.”
At the commencement ceremony on March 11, many speakers further encouraged the students. Princeton Parker said: “This weekend wasn’t a trip. This whole weekend was a disruption to your talent—to remind you that the best is yet to come.”
Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis presented Bernard, Shirley and Khalil Kinsey with a Lion King-inspired statue to commend them on bringing the Kinsey Collection to the theme park in an exclusive exhibit. “We now and forever will be deeply grateful for you allowing us to share this exhibit,” Kalogridis said.
Harvey shared a story about a teacher who once embarrassed him by telling him that he would never be on television. “Now every Christmas, I send that teacher a flat screen television so she can watch me on every one of my television shows,” Harvey said. While applauding Walt Disney’s dream for its magnitude in bringing happiness to billions of people across the world, Harvey said: “Who would have thought that a mouse wearing a suit, with four fingers, would change the world like he has? Kids cry to come to Disney World.” He expounded on his success, celebrity and—frankly—his bank account: “My mother told me at a young age that I would never be cute, but my bank account is cute.”
In classic Harvey manner, the media icon did dispense some good old-fashioned, practical wisdom to the crowd of 2018 Dreamers. “It took me a long time to get here. You don’t need to know what you want to be at a young age,” he said. “Your future has a lot to do with your imagination.”
After the speeches, all 100 Dreamers received a class ring from their parent or guardian in an emotional presentation that celebrated the hard work of the students and the parents who helped to get them to Disney Dreamers Academy.
I’ll report more on the Chicago area Dreamers, including their career-specific immersion ‘Deep Dives,’ next week. For more information about DDA, visit www.DisneyDreamersAcademy.com.