Coronavirus stopped the Disney Dreamers Academy but didn’t dim the magic

Of the 100 Disney Dreamers, eight were from Florida. From left to right are Rouri Hall (Lauderhill), David Daise (Kissimmee), Simone Till (St. Petersburg), Emma Moise (Miami), Nia Marshall (Williston) and Jonathan Williams (Boca Raton).


The coronavirus has done what seems like the unthinkable – shut down Walt Disney World. However, it did not dim the magic or the dreams of the 100 high school students at the 13th annual Disney Dreamers Academy.

Although the four-day empowering weekend was cut short to one day due to the virus outbreak, its positive, motivating message will resonate with the teens for a lifetime.

Hosted annually by Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine, the Dreamers Academy is considered a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing experience for students to discover their career aspirations and putting those dreams into action through interactive, career-oriented workshops, engaging panels and celebrity, motivational speakers.

The festivities were going to take place at Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom.

‘Be 100’ theme

This year’s theme was “Be 100” and encouraged teens to keep a positive attitude and use the lessons they would have learned from the academy to unapologetically pursue their dreams and make a difference in the lives of others.

The event kicked off with a preparade featuring the Dreamers at the Magic Kingdom’s famous Main Street on March 12.

“Black-ish” actress and executive producer Marsai Martin, “Mixed-ish” actress Arica Himmel, Vice President of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Tracey Powell and Essence Editor-at-Large Mikki Taylor were all smiles and waves as they were being chauffeured, with Mickey Mouse in the passenger seat.

Harvey and a few other expected celebrity guests were unable to attend. But those who did made their impact.

The teens hold up encouraging signs and wave Disney Dreamers Academy flags during a parade at the Magic Kingdom on March 12.

Eager to inspire

Himmel and Martin shared what they were looking forward to at this year’s academy during a media luncheon.

“I love giving back,” Himmel, 15, said. “I look forward to inspiring others. My journey wasn’t easy so maybe I can help others with theirs.”

Himmel was a first timer to the academy but Martin has been a previous participant.

“It’s full of kids who have passion and inspire to be something one day,” Martin said. “And No. 1, it’s at Disney World, so that’s the best thing too. You’re at a place where it’s all full of happiness, fun and exciting things.”

Eight from Florida

Eight of the 100 high school students chosen for this year’s Dreamers Academy were from Florida.

Jonathan Shelton,16, of Jacksonville already has aspirations to work for Disney as an “imaginer.’’

Estefania Alcala Garcia, 17, of Belle Glade, wants to open a non-profit and help people start their own businesses.

David Daise,17, of Kissimmee, wants to go into the Navy. He and Emma Moise, 17, of Miami, plans to study engineering.

Rouri Hall, 15, of Lauderhill, would like to become a physical therapist. And Nia Marshall, 18, of Williston, wants to study criminology at Florida State University or Clemson.

St. Petersburg native Simone Till plans to attend the University of South Florida after high school and become an advocate for the deaf community. And Jonathan Williams, 17, of Boca Raton, says he dreams of improving the prognosis of cancer patients by creating a platform in which chemotherapy delivery is determined by mathematical modeling.

There was no word yet on whether the academy will be rescheduled.

For cautionary reasons, Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Paris Resort and Disney Cruise Line announced that it would close for the rest of the month.


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