Walt Disney World Resort welcomed 100 teens selected to participate in the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine last week for four days of inspiration and empowerment from Thursday through Sunday.
The Academy is now going into its second decade of helping youth from around the nation. More than 1,100 students have been through the program.
The theme for this year’s event is BE 100: Empowering Youth to Make Their Dreams Come True. Organizers said the theme urges youth to give it their all in all of their pursuits.
Speaking to the media at Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park Thursday, Harvey discussed the importance of changing the mindset of youth by getting them to concentrate on their dreams.
“I just tell them to open their minds, explore, pay attention, listen, learn,” Harvey said during a press briefing. “Don’t have a lid on your thinking. Anything is possible. I say stay open and get ready for the ride.”
Disney Dreamers Academy Executive Champion Tracey Powell, who also works as vice president of pricing at Walt Disney World, said the Disney Dreamers Academy continues to change the lives of youth.
“What we want to be able to do is to make sure that those students, which are our Dreamers, are able to really ‘Be 100,’ be authentic and be real and really shoot for the stars in everything that they do,” she said. “When they come in Thursday, they don’t know what to expect, but by the end of the weekend, the transformation we see in those 100 Dreamers is incredible.”
President of Essence Communications Michelle Ebanks said the Dreamers Academy is about making a difference in the lives of the teens so they have the skills to pursue their own success.
“Our youth, it’s important that they know that they should have a dream, that they set an agenda for their lives,” she said. “There seem to be more distractions today, but they have to know what they’re working toward so they work hard now.”
Speakers for this year’s Dreamers Academy included Essence magazine Editor-at-Large Mikki Taylor, businessman and former NFL player Emmitt Smith, motivational speakers Princeton Parker and Jonathan Sprinkles, actor Jussie Smollett, singer Ne-Yo, Sunny Hostin from ABC’s The View, Brandi and Karli Harvey, education advocate Dr. Steve Perry and Sonia Jackson Myles, founder and CEO of Sister Accord LLC.
Alumni Dreamers from previous classes also attended the event to offer their help and advice to attendees.
Sean Smith of Basking Ridge, N.J., was one of the students from the Tri-State area invited to attend this year’s Dreamers Academy. The 15-year-old’s goal is to have a career in aviation. He applied for the Dreamers Academy when he reached the eligible age after hearing about it for years from his mother.
While at Disney World, he learned more about technology and got the chance to meet with Disney employees to learn more about how FastPass wristbands work. FastPass is a device used by Disney World guests that gives them access to their hotel rooms, theme parks and pay for items.
“I really learned a lot about trusting yourself and find yourself and doing what you’re passionate about,” Smith said. “It’s pretty amazing that I made it here for this life-changing experience. I know a lot of people are rooting for me to do well. I hope to bring back knowledge when I get home to achieve all of my goals.”
The teens arrived at the Walt Disney World Resort Thursday, where they participated in a parade at Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park followed by a welcome ceremony where Harvey spoke to them.
Friday, the Dreamers heard from alumni who also went through the program and listened to stories about success and how the Academy helped them reach their goals. Later in the day, the students went to Deep Dives, where they attended workshops to gain firsthand experience in their chosen career field with cast members from Disney World. Later in the evening Dreamers were able to network with professionals at a special dinner.
The next day the students heard more speakers before heading to the parks for some free time. They also got a chance to tour the American Heritage Collection at the Epcot theme park, which features the Kinsey Collection containing African-American artifacts and art, which is closing later this month after a five-year run at Disney. In the evening, the Dreamers held their Open Mouse, where they got the chance to showcase what they learned during their Deep Dives.
With the program closing Sunday, the Dreamers participated in an emotional commencement ceremony, where they were given special rings by their parents and guardians for their work during the event at a breakfast before going home. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams gave a performance during the ceremony and Harvey left the students and their parents with encouraging words before going home.
At the commencement, several awards were given out to top Dreamers who excelled during the weekend and were voted on by their peers. The Courage Award was given to Q Markis Brooks from Fayetteville, N.C., and the Leadership Award was given to Nada Dalati from LaVeren, Calif.
The Dreamer of the Year Award was given to Kyle McBeth from Southfield, Mich. McBeth is a high school senior and a member of the National Honors Society and captain of his school’s debate team. He has aspirations to go to college to be an international human rights attorney.
This year’s group traveled from 25 states for the all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World. This year’s attendees had interest in medical, engineering and law careers. Several students already run their own business or charity organization.
Students nationwide can apply for the 2019 Disney Dreamers Academy starting June 28 by going to disneydreamersacademy.com.