The Walt Disney World Resort welcomed 100 teens selected to participate in the 2022 Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA) last week for four days of inspiration and empowerment from Thursday through Sunday.
The Academy marks its 15th year of helping youth from around the nation. More than 1,400 students have been through the program.
This year’s group traveled from 25 states for the all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World. They were selected from thousands of applicants nationwide. New York State had the highest representation with 10 students from the Empire State participating in DDA with four from the five boroughs.
Students at the event had interests in medical, engineering and entertainment careers. Several of them already run their own businesses or community organizations.
Four-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and television executive producer Kelly Rowland was among the well-known celebrities participating. Rowland was the program’s celebrity ambassador and served as a mentor and advocate.
Speaking to the media at Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park on Friday, Rowland said that while she hoped to inspire the students, seeing them inspired her as well.
“To watch all these big brilliant young minds come out here and have a focus and a goal, I’m honored to be among such incredible energy and share space with them,” Rowland said. “It’s one big thing to have a dream and to watch it unfold as you’re on this journey of finding and following your dream is truly a blessing.”
Six students in this year’s class were from the Tri-State area: Abibat Akinyele from the Bronx; Justin Alvarez from Manhattan; Darius Brown from Newark, N.J.; Alexis Halm from East Orange, N.J.; Michael Taggart from Jamaica, Queens; and Darcie Wu from Manhattan.
Disney Dreamers Academy Executive Champion Tracey Powell, who also works as Disney signature experiences vice president and Disney Dreamers Academy executive champion, said the Dreamers Academy allows Tri-State teens to explore their options for the future.
“For those students from the New York area, we really want them to enjoy the weekend and take in all of the opportunities, to be able to get to know people in the program and see that there’s options for them at the Walt Disney Resort to be able to actually have a career,” Powell said.
Entertainment reporter Kelly Carter spoke to the students during the event and hosted panel discussions. She said the Dreamers Academy encourages teens to take what they’ve learned back to their peers.
“I’m really hoping that they take something and put some good out in the world,” Carter said. “That’s really what it’s all about. Finding connections with people and networking, figuring out how to navigate the world outside of high school, college and their professional journey. I just want to see people come back and share their own stories the way that some of the alumni come and inspire the kids.”
Speakers for this year’s Dreamers Academy included Mikki Taylor; Essence CEO Caroline Wanga; motivational speaker Lisa Nichols; retired NBA player, Quentin “Que” Richardson; Bruce W. Smith and Ralph Farquhar, Disney+ executive producers and directors of “Proud Family”; Demi Singleton, who recently starred in the film “King Richard” playing the role of Serena Williams; and recording artist Mali Music.
Cheryl McKissack, president & CEO of McKissack & McKissack, the oldest minority- & woman-owned design and construction services firm in the nation, was also one of the speakers at this year’s Dreamers Academy. Attending the event for the first time, McKissack said she spoke with several teens about her work.
“The fact that I can teach them about construction in New York City, I think, has been very helpful to them and I’m just going to tell the world about these amazing young kids of color.”
Alumni Dreamers from previous classes also attended the event to offer their help and advice to attendees. Princeton Parker, who was a Disney Dreamer in 2011, was one of the hosts for the Dreamers Academy. He’s been involved with the program for 11 years.
“This program has absolutely changed my life,” Parker said. “I’m excited that it’s still going strong, that 100 more Dreamers get to experience what I did.”
Abibat Akinyele Yusifu, 15, from Mott Haven in the Bronx was selected to participate in this year’s Dreamers Academy. She hopes to be a CEO and wants to fuse her passion for technology with business.
“It’s great to see so many motivated kids around me just like me,” she said. “I never knew you could combine multiple interests into one. I was torn between technology and business, but the fact that it can be put together is perfect. I want to bring inspiration back to the community.”
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 with gospel singer Kierra Sheard.
On 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.
Dreamers were taught how to present themselves and make a good impression. The students learned about creating their personal brand and image via their attire from some of the fashion industry’s biggest names including Mikki Taylor and designers Misa Hylton and Jerome Lamar.
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. Sing Mali Music gave a performance during the ceremony and Rowland left the students and their parents with encouraging words before going home.
“If you are being honest with yourself about who you are and living unapologetically, authentically as the best version of yourself, you can discover all of the possibilities that lie ahead,” she said to the students. “Dreams without goals are just dreams.”