*Disney’s Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine, a program developed by Walt Disney World Resort, was launched in 2007 to motivate high school students in grades 9-12 to achieve their dreams personally and professionally.
Disney’s Dreamers Academy (DDA) provides the ultimate classroom learning experience for high school students. For the past six years 100 students among thousands are annually selected to participate in DDA where they are fully immersed in a four day power packed program, designed to get them started on their career paths.
Delivering stellar educational experiences, the event includes interactive career workshops; motivational talks and networking opportunities with Disney executives, sports and entertainment celebrities, industry professionals and community leaders who will share their stories and blueprints for success.
Several years ago, I met a promising student from this prominent program who I found to be an awesomely gifted vocalist. Her name is Taylor Carter and her dream is to become a classical singer – just like her favorite star and role model Audra McDonald. And after meeting her strong and steadfast “stand by her daughter” mom, Melvalett Carter, I knew that that dream would be realized even though she received no encouragement from family members and friends.
“Being Black sometimes my friends, and family didn’t accept my classical voice, and Audra McDonald helped me get through those times. She has a beautiful spirit, and breathtaking voice,” stated Taylor.
After hearing her touching story and seeing one of her dazzling performances, the New York Beacon newspaper arranged for the aspiring opera star and her mom to see a performance of the Broadway revival of “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” starring McDonald as Bess who won a Tony for her memorable performance in that play. Unfortunately, McDonald was on vocal rest per doctor’s orders and did not perform.
But she did meet McDonald’s co-star Norm Lewis who played Porgy. Taylor sang for Lewis who was stunned by her voice and told her that one day he’ll be coming back stage to greet and congratulate her!
However, she still hadn’t met her idol. Her persistence prevailed and her dream realized when she met McDonald backstage at the Chicago Symphony Center. “It meant the world to me to meet my role model Audra McDonald at her recent concert at the Chicago Symphony Center,” an excited Carter exclaimed! “She has such a beautiful spirit, and her performance was breathtaking.”
DDA is so amazed by Carter and her positive imagery that they’ve invited her back for the 2013-2014 DDA Program as a Disney’s Dreamers Academy Champion. This is a very distinguished appointment as only five DDA alums are selected among 600 alumni participants to serve as program ambassadors. These 5 gifted young people have become national spokespersons and guest contributors to DDA social media, helping to inspire future Dreamers.
In July 2013, Taylor and the other DDA Champions had a wonderful weekend at the Essence Music Festival. In addition to seeing great musical performances the Champions spent the weekend spreading the word about what DDA can do for high school students. Ebony, Michael, Brenaea and Taylor talked with festival attendees about how DDA has impacted their lives and how other students can jumpstart their dreams by applying to Disney Dreamers Academy.
In October 2013, representing the Champions, Carter went on the Steve Harvey TV Show along with Austin Morrel and Kalin Houston, two Dreamers from the 2013 class, to discuss their DDA experience.
Presently, Carter is a sophomore at Indiana University Northwest with plans to major in Vocal Performance at Ball State School of Music. She is on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional entertainer on Broadway and beyond. Already she has played roles in Phantom of the Opera as “Christine Daee” and as “Fantine” in Les Miserables.
She is also a gold medalist for the NAACP-ACTSO competition and wishes to start a performing arts camp to inspire and motivate others. Last year, she was asked to perform at the pre-graduating dinner for the Disney’s Dreamers Academy Class of 2013. She blew everyone away.
The other four 2013-2014 Disney’s Dreamers Academy Champions – and just as impressive — joining Carter at the next Disney’s Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World® Resort in February 2014 for a magical experience are:
Avery Davis is a sophomore at Valparaiso University double-majoring in Music and Chinese. He plans on pursuing a Master’s Degree in Educational Studies and desires to teach English as a second language to Chinese students. Davis is a member of the Traditional Chinese Orchestra and is also a volunteer music instructor. He is a gifted photographer with his work being shown in his campus newspaper and Integrated Marketing Department.
Ebony Johnson is a senior at East Carolina University majoring in Hospitality Management, with a minor in Business Administration. She has been running her own business, Ebby-Cakes, since the age of 15 as a baker and cake decorator. She also plans to manage her own food service establishment after graduation. Johnson has been featured in Sister2Sister magazine, on the Steve Harvey Morning Show, and in her local newspaper.
Brenaea Fairchild is a sophomore at Princeton University majoring in Spanish with a minor in French. She is also pursuing a certificate in translation and her teacher certification. She wants to transform America’s education system by establishing a network of schools. Fairchild is a member of Princeton’s Gospel Ensemble, and an administrator/choreographer for Dancing to Christ’s Beat. She co-founded Sisterhood, a club dedicated to service.
Michael Balcom, a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University, majoring in Economics with a minor in Theatre. He made the Dean’s list as a freshman and plans to attend Harvard Law School after graduation. Balcom received President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award and is an Eagle Scout. He is a natural performer and his talents include acting, coaching, gymnastics, juggling, cheerleading, comedy hypnosis, and playing the saxophone.
New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets. Contact her via: [email protected]