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Students take magical ride to kick off 2024 Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World Resort

2023 Disney Dreamers Academy

One hundred high school students from across the country participating in Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA) had the ride of their lives in a magical parade at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. They were joined in the colorful parade on April 4 at Magic Kingdom Park by actress Dara Reneé of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and the upcoming “Descendants: The Rise of Red.” Reneé served as the program’s “DREAMbassador,” acting as mentor and advocate for the students. 

Reneé shared personal insights, drawing from her own journey of chasing her dreams of becoming a multi-faceted artist on stage and screen as an actor, singer and dancer.

Additionally, the parade included popular Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Princess Tiana.
The parade kicked off the 17th year of DDA, a five-day, transformational mentoring program designed to broaden career awareness and create opportunities for Black high school students and teens from underrepresented communities across America.

DARA RENEE, THIS year’s DREAMbassador for 2024 Disney Dreamers Academy, waves from the back seat during the opening parade. 

This year’s DDA, which concludes on Sunday, April 7, welcomed a few other stars, including TV stars Daymond John, Lance Gross and Sanya Richards-Ross, who were on hand to lend their support to the students. 

Reneé said: “There are few things that I’m more passionate about than nurturing the lives of young people, especially talented ones who just need a little inspiration. Being the DREAMbassador for Disney Dreamers Academy this year is the perfect way for me to help engage with these young minds and hopefully offer them the guidance and spark the need to blow open the doors to their career dreams.’’

Richards-Ross, who won four gold medals in the 400-meter and 4×400-meter relay at three Olympic Games in 2004, 2008 and 2012, remains one of track and field’s most decorated female athletes. 

IMG 6879

Since her retirement in 2016, Richards-Ross has gone on to become a track and field TV analyst and a reality television personality. She is currently starring in the hit reality show “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

She was a mentor last year. While I was covering that event, Richards-Ross, a Kingston, Jamaica, native, told me that she started running while she was still learning her times tables. “I was 7-years-old in Kingston when I started track, and when I was nine, I told my mom that I would be an Olympic champion.”

John served as a mentor in previous years at other Disney events. He is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and investor who is well known for launching the successful clothing line FUBU. 

DISNEY EXECUTIVE TRACEY POWELL, a Gary, Indiana, native, greets students and onlookers from the front row.

Other celebrities at DDA 2024 are well-known DJ Big Tigger and national radio host Rickey Smiley, plus several acclaimed educators, designers, producers and Disney executives, who will help the students to dream big. 

Additionally, several sponsors, such as Sprite®, AT&T and Delta Air Lines, have joined this year to further drive the program’s mission of broadening career awareness and creating exclusive enrichment opportunities for these students. 

Dr. Johnnetta Cole, an anthropologist, educator, author, museum director and the first Black female president of Spelman College; Nikkolas Smith, a contemporary artist, illustrator, author, activist and former Walt Disney Imagineer, who has illustrated movies, including “Black Panther,” “Black Panther 2” and “Space Jam 2,” are among other mentors. 

Dr. Johnnetta Cole

The students are guided through various immersive workshops that align with their dreams, while introducing them to diverse career paths in business, entertainment and science, and the many other career opportunities within The Walt Disney Company.

Since 2008, Disney Dreamers Academy has inspired more than 1,600 students from across the country by fueling their dreams and showing them a world of possibilities as they prepare for their futures. In the years following, graduates have become storytellers, artists, engineers, innovators, journalists and more. 

STUDENTS SHOW SUPPORT for Disney Dreamers Academy during opening ceremonies.

The students and a parent or guardian enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida for the event. The program is an integral part of Disney’s commitment to supporting diverse communities by encouraging the next generation to think and dream big.

The Chicago Crusader is covering Kevin Konopacki, a senior at Northridge Preparatory School in Niles, Illinois, and Ren Olson, a senior at Carmel High School. 

KEVIN KOPOPACKI and Ren Olson are local students from Arlington Heights and Carmel, Indiana. The Chicago Crusader is covering their 2024 DDA journeys. 

Ren shared his thoughts on his DDA experience. 

“DDA is amazing!!! I’ve made great friends, had fun experiences, and my perspective toward my future has dramatically shifted in the short day I’ve been here!” He added: “The best experience so far is the career academy talks that we had. Every speaker was so engaging and inspiring, my favorite being from the individuals responsible for creating Disney Hollywood Studios’ ‘Fantasmic’

show every night! I had no idea how many different roles went into a single Disney production.”

Ren’s mother came with him to Florida. He said that his mom thinks the lead speakers are great role models who present from an honest, vulnerable place. “Their care and effort toward the program differentiates it from others. Instead of cliche sayings, the guidance is thought-provoking and real,” his mother revealed. 

Take a look at Arlington Heights’ student Kevin Konopacki’s thoughts about DDA: DDA_2024_Dreamer_Kevin Konopacki_Arlington Heights_ IL_Sound Bites.mp4 | Powered by Box

Take a look at the Dreamers marching through Disney World, led by Mickey Mouse:

B-roll_Disney Dreamers Academy Parade at Magic Kingdom Park.mp4 | Powered by Box

Take a look at an opening day interview from Dara Reneé: 

Interview_DDA_2024_Dara Renee_DREAMbassador.mp4 | Powered by Box

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