The 2014 Disney Dreamers Academy in partnership with ESSENCE and Steve Harvey provided four-days of inspiration and education for 100 high school students. Baltimore senior Asia McCallum quickly caught our eye with her big energy and amazing testimony of overcoming homelessness and an eating disorder to become curvier. Her fellow dreamers agreed and voted her Dreamer of the Year. See her journey to self discovery.
As told to Charreah K. Jackson
This year has been amazing. Not only am I living my dream by attending the Disney Dreamers Academy, I'm also the valedictorian of my high school class. And it has been a long journey to get here. In my freshman year I was bullied badly, failing classes and would have dropped out if I was old enough. I finally transferred to another school and my grades got better but soon I began to face another issue: an eating disorder. It wasn't the common disorder that people hear about where a person thinks they are fat. I actually wanted to gain a lot of weight.
In my community and just being a female of color in this generation, everyone expects you to have big butts and curves. People praise women that look like Nicki Minaj or have curves like Beyoncé. They're gorgeous and I love them both, but for a Black girl that doesn't have all the booty or boobs, people can make you feel like you are hideous. I was picked on so much that I started telling myself that I was ugly and that nobody would ever love me because I'm a frail girl. So I started filling my plate with meat and sweets to gain weight and even thought of saving up money to get plastic surgery. Thankfully as I got older I began to appreciate my body and accept myself. I realized what I feel about myself is more important than what any boy or girl thinks about me. I also grew my relationship with God and was reminded that I may be a small person in this big world, but there's something big inside of us all. One of the other things I fell in love with about myself is my natural hair. I love being natural especially because I go to a school where I'm one of the only natural girls. People do make little jokes about my hair but it doesn't make me feel bad.
After college, I want to be a writer and become the youngest person to win a Nobel Literature Prize, which is a huge deal. I also want to be a product designer and working on getting my first patent for a product that promotes environmental sustainability. Hopefully you’ll see me on Shark Tank this summer. Right now I’m working two jobs. My favorite job is with a high school program at The National Aquarium. We go camping where you can actually see every star in the sky at night. As a kid growing up in a poor community, it has opened my perspective to the idea that the there is life beyond the hood that you come from and the Earth is so much bigger than Baltimore.
I wrote in my essay for the Disney Dreamers Academy about a man I met last summer. I was on my lunch break from work, and he was sitting at a table next to me reading a book. I started talking to him about his book, and it turned into a conversation about him being homeless. I could relate because when I was a child I was homeless and lived in a shelter with my dad and my two brothers for three months. I asked him a weird question: what's one of the good things about being homeless? He said that it's so beautiful to be able to sleep on the street and wake up and watch the sunrise every day. That was so amazing and reminded me to appreciate every sunrise.
Asia McCallum is currently preparing for her high school graduation, researching her first product patent and planning to study product design and creative writing in college.