For the 12th year, Walt Disney World Resort, along with Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine, hosted 100 students from across the country for the 2019 Disney Dreamers Academy. This year’s theme was “Be 100: Empowering Youth To Make Their Dreams Come True.”
Disney Dreamers Academy brings together a great slate of speakers to present before the students and, for the first year, a “Parents Track” that was aimed toward encouraging the parents.
Motivational speakers included Jonathan Sprinkles, Chef Jeff Henderson, Princeton Parker, Dr. Steve Perry, ESSENCE Magazine’s Michele Ebanks and Lisa Nichols, among others. The celebrity panel included Miles Brown, Trevor Jackson, JD McCrary, Chloe & Halle Bailey, Ruth Carter and Marcus Scribner.
All of the speakers mentioned above had great advice for the students.
Trevor Jackson, who is a singer as well as an actor, said: “I wish I had something like DDA when I was younger. I want to continue creating things that are important to me, and I trust in God,” said the Indianapolis native. When speaking about his lead role in the film “Superfly,” he said: “I watched the movie with my dad and realized its legacy in the Blaxploitation genre. My goal was not to re-create O’Neal’s character,” Jackson said. It was an experience that he said he viewed with angst and joy. “It’s like a feeling that I had to approach as something that I was afraid of but still wanted to be friends with.”
The young man who plays Junior on “Black-ish,” Marcus Scribner, said that he had been acting for a long time before he ever booked a show. He encouraged the students. “If you are having fun and enjoying the ride, that is where you want to be.”
Chef Jeff Henderson, who overcame a hardscrabble youth and has cooking shows and owns a restaurant in Las Vegas, says he went from being a drug dealer to prison and then to being a renowned chef. He warned against mothers telling young Black boys that they are the men in their households. “When a woman tells a young Black boy that he is the man of the house, she places that child on a pipeline to prison. He feels the need to deliver.” After he served 10 years, Henderson said he prepared himself for the corporate world. “I had to diffuse the prison stigma. I had to build a brand, get a manicure, cover up my ear piercing and smile more.”
The first African American to receive an Oscar for Costume Design, Ruth Carter, talked about her work on “Black Panther.” She told the students that no one will be as unique as they are. “You are going to make mistakes, but you have to keep going.” She shared that her next project is “Coming to America 2.”
Miles Brown, who plays Jack on “Black-ish,” is now being home-schooled and working on other new projects. He spoke of the self-esteem that he has developed since starring on the ABC sitcom. “Before “Black-ish” I was shy, but I saw how people reacted to me.”
Princeton Parker, who is a DDA alum and full of self-confidence, spoke about finding his way as a preacher. “You can’t purchase purpose. In my playtime, I would pretend that a brush was a mic and I would preach. Who I was when no one else was looking helped me to become the person you see today.” He urged students to maximize their ‘destiny moment,’ saying “Don’t go for the selfie, go for the connection. Take advantage of it and appreciate it.”
And finally Harvey, who had advice throughout the weekend, summed it up at the commencement. He talked about being written off many times, but he persevered. “God never created a soul without bestowing a gift on them, as he reminded students that being smart is a gift, while many may think that only running, jumping, dancing and singing are gifts. Haters are sent by the devil. Stay in the wall and up the ladder. Don’t stop your climb to kick somebody off.”
Yvette (Yvie) Cabrera a student from Crown Point, Indiana, who participated in DDA, said that she learned much from Harvey and the great roster of speakers mentioned above.
She says that she really appreciated the speech that Harvey gave at the commencement ceremony. “I really enjoyed when Steve Harvey said that a gift is something you’re good at with the least amount of effort, and he spoke about students finding their gifts. I know that if I put every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into my gift I too can become successful.”
She also said that the most important part of the weekend was the guest panelists. “They gave us so much information and motivation to pursue our dreams,” she said. She added that the Dance Deep Drive really helped her to better perfect her dance technique.
Highland Park High School student Isabel (Issy) Schwartz said. “I learned so many new things and met people I never would have otherwise met,” she said. “The workshops that I attended helped remind me to always look at life with a positive perspective.”
And as the application period for the 2020 Disney Dreamers Academy is in full swing, Yvette urges other students from Chicago, as well as the surrounding area, to apply. “You should definitely apply! This has been one of the best weekends of my life. You won’t regret it. I promise!”
For more info, visit DisneyDreamersAcademy.com.