ESSENCE joined Steve Harvey for the fifth annual Disney Dreamer's Academy in Florida.
Tanisha A. Sykes recently returned from four days in Florida at the 2012 Disney Dreamers Academy With Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine, a program that brings together promising students from around the country for a unique experience that encourages them to dream big. Here, ESSENCE senior editor of personal finance & careers Sykes gives her report from her inspiring — and star-studded — trip.
As comedian and radio personality Steve Harvey took center stage on March 8, the opening night of the 5th Annual Dreamers Academy in Orlando, he reminded the kids looking up to him: “More than 4,000 high school students from around the country applied for this opportunity, but only 100 of you were selected. That right there makes you special.”
The chosen students, called Dreamers, received an all-expenses-paid trip to the Walt Disney World Resort to participate in the program. Funnyman Harvey told the students to dream as big as their imaginations would allow, but don’t hate if they stop dreaming while their counterparts keep going. “Money can’t buy you happiness, but poverty can’t buy you nothing,” he joked.
“Disney Dreamers is an amazing program for socially challenged young people around the country,” said chef Jeff Henderson, former executive chef at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. “It gives them a great weekend of education, fellowship and entertainment, and allows people like myself to share stories of resilience and transformation.”
Throughout the weekend, the students took part in “Deep Dives” — intensive, hands-on sessions hosted by celebrities, entrepreneurs and professionals — to help them learn about what they are dreaming to become.
Organizations like ESSENCE, BET, the National Association of Black Journalists, and Disney's Eyes & Ears newsletter participated in a Journalism Deep Dive, where students took a crash course in reporting, taking photographs, and storytelling. "It was a big lesson in courage for me,” said 16-year-old Holland Colvin, a student who helped create a rendition of ESSENCE’s Street Style at the Disney Dreamers Academy. “I never thought I could go up to people and just ask them questions, but I did it."
Other Deep Dive opportunities included a session about business, for would-be entrepreneurs; one about animation, facilitated by a top talent at Disney; and another about careers in music.
In between fueling the students’ passion and sharpening their gifts, celebs, professionals and entrepreneurs came out in force to offer words of encouragement to the Dreamers.
“My mother used to tell me, if you’re waiting for someone to like your dream, you might be waiting a very long time,” said award-winning journalist and CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien. Stephen Hill, BET’s President of Music and Programming agreed, stressing to the young people that you have to be an active participant in bringing your dream alive: “Part of dreaming is doing, and don’t be afraid if your dream changes.”
“I think this is an incredible event because a simple essay got [the Dreamers] the opportunity,” said Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks, who participated in the ESSENCE of You, an intimate conversation between the female Dreamers and prominent figures like Ebanks, Yolanda Adams, American Idol alumna Kimberly Locke, Karli and Brandi Harvey (Steve’s twin daughters), Sonia Jackson Myles (author of The Sister Accord, The Promise The Will Transform Your Life), and myself. “There may be young people out there who don’t have the best grades and may not have the support at home, or have someone there to appreciate them, hug them and inspire them to do better. Coming here gives them that.”
In his conversation with the Dreamers, Will Packer, producer of the upcoming movie Think Like a Man (out April 20), offered up some poignant words of advice: “The thing to remember is that you’re not good, you’re great.” No matter how many times he had been told no, Packer recalled, he continued to believe in his dream to be a filmmaker: “If the people around you aren’t supporting your dream, then they are dream killers,” he said. In that moment, the Dreamers started to believe.