Disney's Dreamers Academy 2017!

It's hard to believe that the 2017 Disney's Dreamers Academy concluded almost two weeks ago. I'll be honest the first week back to reality after the ultimate whirlwind of a week with Disney was intensseeee (if you missed my last post on this/are wondering what I am talking about read here). 

In addition, I had a phone fiasco that resulted in having to get a new one which meant I lost all the photos and videos (minus a few saved on random apps) I took from the trip. Side note: Make sure to ALWAYS backup your photos and don't let your storage reach too close to max capacity or your iPhone will start compressing files and deleting them until it crashes on itself. 

Despite it all, I am so incredibly thankful that I have this unforgettable experience to cherish and for the kindness of others in sending any photos and videos they have with me from the event -- such a blessing! I'll share some of the photos that I do have -- and I'll continue to add as I find ways to collect more! 

As a returning alumnus (DDA Class of 2012!) this year, I had the privilege of serving as a mentor, team leader, and guest speaker. It was a momentous occasion for many reasons but also just a huge honor to be chosen to represent my dreamer class for this year's 10th anniversary. I was able to connect with a new generation of passionate high schoolers (we call them Dreamers) and share with them my insight and advice towards pursuing their dreams. I also had the opportunity to share with various media, leadership, and Steve Harvey on what I have been up to since my attendance in 2012. It felt amazing to give back to a program that has given so much to me and to re-live this powerful experience again. 

Every day was a surprise and every experience was so thrilling. I met so many incredible new people and joyously reconnected with the people I had met back in 2012! Every person I spoke with and heard from challenged, inspired, and motivated me to keep pursuing my passions. Keep reading to hear about my day-to-day highlights from the 2017 Disney's Dreamers Academy!

DAY 1: MARCH 8 - TRAVEL TO FLORIDA DAY!

An adventure and a lesson in itself. Blog post on this to come soon!  

DAY 2: MARCH 9 - "DREAM BIG"

The day kicked off meeting up with the other alumni and Disney Reps (the fearless & gracious Disney leaders who always make sure we are in the right place at the right time), receiving our official polos and badges, and participating in the "Dreams Come True" parade in Disney's Magic Kingdom! From there, we were whisked off to opening ceremony rehearsal. After rehearsal, we took our seats in our reserved seating in the front row. It was a surreal feeling sitting in the same row as the executives and guest speakers such as Steve Harvey, Yolanda Adams, Brandi & Karli Harvey, Mikki Taylor (Editor-at-Large of Essence Magazine), Tracey Powell (Walt Disney Parks & Resort Executive) — to name a few.  The opening ceremony was packed with powerful words of wisdom that set the stage for the week that was to come. I could feel the excitement and anticipation radiating from the 100 selected dreamers and their parents from across the country that filled the room. When Steve Harvey gave his speech, he took a moment to ask each alumnus what they were doing now. Again, it was surreal talking to Steve Harvey himself! Once the iconic statement, "Dreamers, welcome to the Academy!" had been said by myself, fellow alumni, Princeton Parker (2011 alumni who is now an official program speaker), and Mickey Mouse, it was time to head off to dinner and meet our assigned group of dreamers! Dinner was served at the Living Seas VIP Lounge in Epcot where we dined with a stunning view of the sharks and sea creatures. I had spoken with many of the dreamers via social media before the event, but I loved finally being able to connect in person. One of the exciting moments that happened during dinner was when Princeton Parker announced that every Dreamer was getting a free tablet courtesy of Office Depot! It definitely felt like an Oprah moment! 

After that, we had a dinner with the media. Yes, a SECOND dinner (Disney feeds us so well). It was such a privilege to be able to share my story with the journalists in attendance. Each of them were so kind and truly cared about what our experience has been like as alumni.

DAY 3: MARCH 10 - "DREAMS, POSSIBILITIES AND PASSIONS"

We had an early morning group photoshoot at Fountainview Epcot! Various Disney characters joined us for the photo; I was so excited because I finally got to meet Mulan! Then we had breakfast -- one of the really neat things that the Disney's Dreamers Academy includes is prayer time before every meal we have together. After that, we sat on the Alumni Connection Panel where we had the opportunity to share our experiences, answer questions, and give advice to the group of dreamers. As I was sitting on the panel, hearing the stories of the other alumni, their accomplishments, and their insights, I felt so honored to be considered of the same caliber as these other alumni. From an international choreographer to an insanely talented singer to nonprofit founders to business owners to a Guinness World Record holder, each one of the alumni were so gifted and determined in their own ways. I was truly inspired listening to their stories.

Following that, I was sent to an interview with the Walt Disney World Documentary Crew. I imagined myself in this position five years ago and how it would have terrified me at the time but also reflected on how much I have grown in confidence in front of the camera and sharing my story with others since then. After that, I went to the guest speaker session with Jonathan Sprinkles. He is an incredible speaker who challenges you to think about your life in ways you never imagined. Then fellow alumnus, Pavlina Osta (She's super rad! Check out her work!), and I explored Epcot, grabbed lunch, and took photos! We then went to a deep dive (hands-on workshops with industry experts from a variety of fields) for business entrepreneurship with Sonia Jackson Myles (P&G Global Director/Founder of the Sister Accord) and 18 year-old prodigy-entrepreneur, Jaylen Bledsoe of Bledsoe Technologies. While there, Pavlina and I came up with a grand business idea, but more to come on that later!

That night, our Disney Reps surprised us alumni with the most amazing gift ever! We rode a private boat through Disney's Magical Lagoon where we watched the Electric Water Parade and the firework show over Magic Kingdom. It was breathtaking and felt so unreal and magical. It was a night that I will never forget.

riding the boat on disney's magical lagoon

DAY 4: MARCH 11 - "A WHOLE NEW WORLD" 

We didn't have a lot of mandatory activities for this day which was a nice change of pace (still a very fast-pace, but more relaxed). We spent the morning with the other Dreamers engaging in a Business Style 101 Session with Brandi and Karli Harvey. After that, we explored Walt Disney Studios with the media crew. It was a lot of fun working with the crew while simultaneously speed-walking through Disney Studios to play on the rides and try to maximize the amount of time we had in the park (Thank you Disney for FastPass!). Later on, we ran into Steve Harvey's daughters, Brandi and Karli Harvey and their families. They invited us to go on the Toy Story ride with them and it was so fun! Apparently, Fastpass doesn't exist when you are a celebrity. We skipped all the lines and went straight to the ride!

Later in the day, we attended a panel session with guest celebrities Kim Fields, Tahj Mowry (Voice of Wade from Kim Possible & Teddy from Full House), and Bryshere Gray (Empire TV Show Actor). Then it was time for dinner: buffet style with three rows of tables packed with food from different countries. Needless to say I was overwhelmed, but also really happy. Next up: Career "Open Mouse." During this time, the Dreamers present the projects they worked on during their deep dive sessions from the day before in a networking/science fair style event. Parents, Disney staff, celebrities, professionals, and the alumni are invited to interact with the dreamers and learn about their projects and passions. I was so inspired by the talent that was in that room. These high schoolers were so unique in the projects they presented from Disney Park ride ideas to animations to singing/acting to business plans to medical proposals -- SO MUCH TALENT!

To top the day off -- because Disney knows how to throw in extra fun on top of the current fun, there was a dance and dessert party complete with a dance floor, DJ, and an appearance by Mickey Mouse himself!

DAY 5: MARCH 12 - “COMMENCEMENT"

Then just like that, the week is over. If you've made it this far in reading, you can tell that they pack a lot into each day. Commencement Day is a special one. It is a formal-style event where parents and dreamers are seated together for breakfast and entertainment. Parents present a class ring to their dreamers, and it almost feels like a mix of an emotional graduation ceremony + a passionate Sunday morning church service. There were performances by Yolanda Adams and surprise guest, PATTI LABELLE! Awards are presented to various standout dreamers, there are powerful closing speeches by Steve Harvey, guest TJ Holmes (ABC News Anchor), Dr. Steve Perry (Capital Prep Magnet School Founder/Principal & CNN/MSNBC Contributor), and many others, the official Class of 2017 Dreamers photo is taken, goodbyes are said, tears are shed, and the last few interviews are squeezed in. It's an emotional day but also so empowering. Everyone heads home from this life-changing event as a new person with a re-energized outlook on life.

REFLECTING: 

I think it would be impossible to share every detail of what occurs during this event because there is so much jam-packed into just a few days. However, I hope this helps paint the picture of how incredible the Disney's Dreamers Academy is. It changed my life and it was so amazing to see watch a new generation of young dreamer's lives be changed forever. 

Also, if you are wondering if we got any sleep during this week, we definitely did not -- but was it worth it? Absolutely yes. Besides, the best kind of dreaming happens when you're awake, am I right? 

I fully believe that the Lord works in profound ways through this program because the majority of the leadership, students, and staff declare their faith and express how God plays a vital role in their life.

Even though this year's DDA is over, I still find myself left so inspired and encouraged even more in my life and faith because of the people I met, the stories I heard, and the updates on the dreamers that I have been receiving since the event. 

This was the ultimate full circle experience for me, and I will never be able to thank Disney, Steve Harvey, Essence Magazine + all the other sponsors, leaders, and staff enough for having me back this year! I will continue to say this over and over again: it was an ABSOLUTE DREAM COME TRUE AGAIN to return to this program. I hope to continue contributing to this program for the years to come!! Thank you for reading!!

my #ddagreen team <3

Here's to the Big Dreamers & Happy 10th Anniversary, DDA!

- CD

-- Check out these additional sources for more highlights from DDA 2017! -- 

DDA 2017 Event Website: DDAdisney.com

Facebook: Disney Dreamers Academy

DDA Twitter: @DreamersAcademy

Essence Magazine: The Best Moments from 10th Annual DDA

Bernetta Style: Life After Disney Dreamers Academy