Education

Disney helps motivate, jump-start dreams of 100 teens at 10th annual academy

One hundred high school students and 10 alumni from across the United States kick off the 10th Disney Dreamers Academy on Thursday, March 9, 2017, with a special parade at Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
One hundred high school students and 10 alumni from across the United States kick off the 10th Disney Dreamers Academy on Thursday, March 9, 2017, with a special parade at Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo provide to the Miami Herald

Every young person attending the Disney Dreamers Academy this month had a story to tell. Some came from broken homes and were raised by a single parent but came to the academy because they have big dreams to fulfill.

Some Dreamers (as the participants are called) already have their own businesses, have started their own clothing lines and adoption agencies and seem to be on the road to success. These Dreamers came to the academy for additional motivation.

Then, there were those, like Ricardo Morrell, 17, of Homestead, who has had to fight nearly everyday to keep his self-esteem up. “God has helped me to overcome so much,” he said last week during a break at the 10th anniversary celebration of March 8-12 at the Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World.

He talked about his biological father, who seems not to want to have a relationship with him, and about his stepdad, Rodney Freeman, who tries to be a dad he can look up to.

Ricardo, a junior at Miami South Ridge High School, was one of 100 youngsters, ages 13-19, selected from over 10,000 applicants to take part in the prestigious academy, where dreams really do come true.

In the 10 years since the academy began, more than 1,000 students have gone through the program.

As always, this year’s class of Dreamers hit the ground running. There were motivational talks from people like comic and television/radio personality Steve Harvey; Princeton Parker (a 2011 Dreamer alumni), Jonathan Sprinkles, educator Steve Perry and gospel superstar Yolanda Adams.

At Deep Dives, the Dreamers were “submerged” in information about their chosen professions, led by professionals in the fields.

But it wasn’t all work and no play. There also was time for playing and making new friendships, when the Dreamers were “let loose” in the theme parks for hours of fun.

“Just bask in the moment,” Yoland Adams told the group. “Thousands of youngsters applied, but only 100 got in and you were one of them.”

The 100 Dreamers came from throughout the United States. In addition to Ricardo, 13 of them are from Florida: Bethanyanne Chandler, Tallahassee; Breanna Boland, Riviera Beach; Chancellor Frankson, Boynton Beach; Christopher Young and Jordan Mills, Jacksonville; Danielle Greif and Elois Hannah, Lutz; Hunter Gerard, Crestview; Jordan Mills, Jacksonville; Millie Rivera Rodriguez, Harmony; N Jhari Jackson, Tampa; Rebecca Jean-Louis, Orlando; Tyrik Pitts, Lehigh Acres; and William Gilmore, Cutler Bay.

The Dreamers and their parents/chaperones were all-expense-paid guests at the academy. In addition to activities for the Dreamers, the parents/chaperones had their own activities and agenda.

For the past 10 years, Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine have been the official hosts of the academy.

During the opening ceremony, Harvey told the Dreamers, “Out of over 10,000 applicants, our heavenly Father chose you because He has something special for you to do. So, don’t do anything to embarrass me, ‘cause I promise you, I’ll send you home.”

Later, when asked, why he does the academy each year, Harvey said he is motivated by the memory of his own parents.

“My dad had a third-grade education; my mom, who taught Sunday school, taught my dad how to read. And my dad taught me nothing but how to work hard ... He taught me good work ethics. His grandfather was a slave,” Harvey said. “I got my work ethics from my dad and my faith came from my mom, who taught me about God. That’s why I’m sitting here today.”

While some of the speakers have other professions, others like Jonathan Sprinkles, a former computer salesman, have given up well-paying jobs to become full-time motivational speakers and authors.

“I figured that I could build someone else’s dream, or build my own,” Sprinkles said.

Sprinkles, 40, said his “personal belief is that success is finding God’s will for you, and then doing it.”

He said the thing that motivates him now is love. “Letting people know and feel they are loved is very important. If these young people feel love now, they will never settle for anything else.”

The author of several books, Sprinkles said he is working on a series to be called, “The Law of Connection.”

During the four-day academy, current Dreamers were motivated by Dreamer Alumni.

Ricardo Morrell, the Homestead teen, soaked it all up like a sponge. He was 3 when diagnosed with Lenox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. “At first, doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me and said I would be ‘border-line retarded.’ But my mom wouldn’t give up on me. She took me to the hospital nearly every day of my life for about three years. We lived in Tallahassee then and she had to drive to Gainesville to the hospital,” said Ricardo, who plays football at South Ridge and wants to study psychology in college.

Ricardo’s mom, Kimberly Freeman, said she wouldn’t accept the prognosis for her son. “I knew he was smart,” she said. And although he was held back in kindergarten, the next year in the first grade, Ricardo was reading on the fifth grade level.

“That’s why I wanted him to attend the academy,” said Freeman, a domestic worker and keeps the books for her husband’s landscaping business. “I didn’t know if he would be accepted, but I made him apply anyway. I wanted him to do it [apply] because he is smart. He has been through so much in life, his dad treats him like a nobody. I try to place him in situations that are positive. For a while he had no motivation, no push. I prayed about it and said this would be great for him. It’s been a blessing to us all.”

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