Over the weekend, 100 talented teenagers participated in a transformative experience that will almost certainly change their lives forever.
The handpicked high school students took part in a once-in-a-lifetime program to inspire them to unlock their potential and explore limitless possibilities.
The youngsters, selected from thousands of applicants, are the latest class of young Dreamers to pass through the life-changing Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA) in Orlando, Florida.
What they experienced over four intense days is mind-boggling: careers advice, personalized mentoring, interactive hands-on sessions, and unique access to celebs and experts who are leaders in their fields.
Now in its 9th year, the academy in partnership with Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine, continues to hold true to its original mandate to unlock potential in young people as well as inspire them to have the confidence to take on the world.
“You aren’t going to make nothing out yourself unless you start dreaming,” said funnyman-turned-host, Harvey, in a session with the teens. “You’ve got to dream.”
“The Bible says a man without a vision or dream shall perish. Education is paramount. You do need an education but it’s your dream that will propel you to get that education. If you’ve got no dream then there’s no reason to get an education. It’s your dream that should be at the forefront of everything.”
“This is the weekend that’s going to inform, inspire, and empower you and help you to navigate your dreams with clarity and determination,” said Mikki Taylor, Editor-at-Large at Essence Magazine, during her impassioned speech.
“This is the affirmation weekend,” she added. “This is the experience that cancels out feelings of doubt, hesitation, insecurity, and replaces them with tenacity, vision, and assurance.”
The mammoth logistical operation, which involves flying all the high school students — along with a parent or guardian — on an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney from March 3-6, was executed with military precision.
All the teens participated in Deep Dives, a plethora of interactive careers labs with experts in chosen fields, ranging from law to medicine, culinary arts, zoology, performing arts, and much more.
“As a millennial growing up affirmation is our drug and social media is the pusher,”said 21-year-old Disney Dreamers Academy alumnus Princeton Parker who now serves on DDA’s Speaker Resource Group. “We live for ‘Likes’ so much so that whatever affirms us is what we pursue and social media is the quickest way we can get that.”
“The problem is what gets the most affirmation is oftentimes the wrong part of us that needs to be affirmed. DDA (Disney Dreamers Academy) affirms the right part of you. It affirms the part that’s connected with your purpose.”
Jordan Williams, a 17-year-old serial teenpreneur from metropolitan Atlanta, is the co-founder of Young Moguls Brand, an urban clothing line that embodies the positive message of entrepreneurship.
“We want it to be more than just cool designs,” says Williams, who is on course to attend the University of Pennsylvania or UNC-Chapel Hill and major in Business Management. “We want it to have a message behind it. I want to expand the brand but in the future, I want to start my own branding and marketing agency to work with established corporate clients.”
“The best part has been the Unplugged Session with Steve Harvey,” he added. “It was an amazing experience to be real close to him. He’s very real to you and very straightforward. I’ve told other people that in these few days I’ve got more valuable information than all my years of attending school.”
This year’s group of scholars was selected by a panel of judges including; Steve Harvey; Disney’s Tracey Powell; educator Dr. Steve Perry, Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks; and Princeton Parker of the 2011 DDA class.
Prospective dreamers must be in a U.S. high school and aged between 13 and 19. To win a place they submit an application and essay about their personal stories and life dreams. Since its inception, 900 students have passed through the program.
Other official ambassadors of DDA, who also participated in the weekend, included gospel music legend Yolanda Adams; motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles, founder of The Sister Accord, Sonia Jackson Myles, and Brandi & Karli Harvey
Comedian/actress Loni Love also hosted conversations with film director Will Packer; teenage self-made IT multimillionaire Jaylen Bledsoe, rappers MC Lyte and Silento; and actors Tamera Mowry, Lamman Rucker, Lance Gross, among others.
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