High school students got to explore their dreams this past weekend with the help of Steve Harvey and Essence magazine at the fourth annual Disney’s Dreamers Academy in Orlando, Florida.
Over 4,000 students from around the country sent in applications to participate in the 4-day enrichment program. Only 100 were chosen. Steve was quick to say, though, that being chosen doesn’t make the students special necessarily. It just means that these were the students that Steve and his team hoped were the right ones to take a chance on.
We got a chance to speak with one of the gifted students chosen, 15-year-old junior A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, who paid tribute to her mother for driving A’Dorian to be a success from a very early age. A’Dorian wants to double major in political science and psychology, and plans on grad school afterwards, with a final goal of working to help inner-city communities progress, possibly in the role of a mayor or senator. “The most important thing I’ve learned is just to realize that there are no limits in terms of what you can be and you just have to allow yourself to dream. A lot of times we limit our own capacity of dreaming,” A’Dorian said. “You can’t allow that to happen. And your dreams will come true, but it’s not just gonna come at the snap of your finger. You’re gonna have to work for it, too … so just know that you can do a vast amount of things, and you’ll have to work to get there, and once you get there it will all be worth it.”
In the program, students were able to learn from the best of the best in various fields, including Michelle Ebanks, President of Essence Communications; Dr. Steve Perry, a well-known educator, author and motivational speaker; Bruce Smith and Marion West, Walt Disney animators and numerous other inspirational individuals.
Motivational speaker Zerbin Singleton has been present at all four Dreamer’s Academy weekends, and takes a lot of pleasure and pride in sharing his story with the up-and-coming dreamers. Zerbin is from Anchorage, Alaska, and faced some tough times early on, with a mother who was on drugs and a father who went M.I.A. before he was even born. After also living through homelessness, hunger and an at-times absentee mother, he moved to Georgia to live with family and get a new start in life. “From an early age I always liked to fly. I wanted to be an astronaut, so I started to apply myself. I knew if I wanted to be an astronaut I had to go to college,” he said. “I’m the first male to graduate from college in my family.” Before heading to and graduating from the naval academy in 2008, Zerbin attended Georgia Tech for a year after being hit head-on by a drunk driver, which resulted in a crushed collarbone, the year he was accepted to the academy. He was asked to share his story of perseverance with the students the first year of the program, and he’s been back to speak every year. Zerbin said that these kids inspire him just as much as he hopes that he inspires them. “Seeing them believe that they can achieve their dreams … it’s hard to do something when you’ve never seen it or at least heard it,” he said. “Just the excitement and having them come and say that I helped them, it helps me.”
The dreamers-in-training also got a chance to exchange words with not just Steve Harvey and some of the head honchos at Essence, but also Terrence J, Cupid, Kimberley Locke and Tamera Mowry. Students also got a chance to hear from Disney royalty herself, Raven-Symoné, who provided the keynote speech on the last day of the program. “I got involved because there’s so many people of a young age and of color and of different ethnic backgrounds that get overlooked for so many years,” Raven said. “There’s always someone who wants them to succeed, but there’s always someone who wants them to fail. And knowing that a company as big as Disney wants them to succeed, I want to be a part of that.”