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Helping teens jumpstart their dreams (DDA 2016)

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Helping teens jumpstart their dreams


Nine Florida students part of this year’s Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence


Nine Florida teens were among 100 high school students selected to participate in the ninth annual Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine. Selected from an applicant pool of thousands, the blessed nine participated in a four-day, all-expense paid, hands-on educational and mentoring opportunity held March 3-6 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista.

Students from Florida and around the country gain specific information about their areas of interest at a Deep Dive class during the Disney Dreamers Academy.( PHOTOS BY GREGG NEWTON)

Representing four separate quadrants of the state were Tyrah Rumph (Orlando); Maurice Morrison (Ocala); Steshawna Thomas (Middleburg); Alex Gregory (Port Charlotte); and Victoria Tinney (Zephyrhills). From the Miami area: Kirby Gilmore, Justin Gonzalez, K’deja Correa and Valeria Hansen.

Harvey on dreams
The student’s dreams and collegiate goals were as diverse as their ethnicities, which contributed to the Class of 2016 comprising one of the academy’s most diverse groups. A competitive selection process consisted of answering essay questions submitting an essay that best conveyed their intellectual curiosity, compassion, courage and leadership. The best submissions demonstrated that gratitude and humility were common character traits, highlighted their dreams, and articulated a positive approach as to how they planned to achieve them.

“How many times have you had an opportunity to make something out of yourself? You won’t make nothing out of yourself unless you dream. Yes, an education is important, but education will propel your dreams,” said Harvey, who welcomed the students, who are called “Dreamers,’’ and guests during the event’s opening ceremony at EPCOT’s World Showcase.

A group of Disney Dreamers share a light moment with Steve Harvey. He’s flanked by Tracey D. Powell with Disney World and Mikki Taylor, editor-at-large for Essence.

“Real knowledge is not a press of a button. Real knowledge is exposure and you’re being exposed today. In this room today, you have an opportunity to talk to some people. Ask questions this weekend and be inquisitive,” Harvey added.

Celebrity judging panel
The judging panel tasked with narrowing the field included gospel music legend Yolanda Adams; Essence magazine editor-at-large Mikki Taylor; education advocate Dr. Steve Perry; “The Sister Accord’’ founder and author Sonia Jackson Myles; award-winning motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles; Simply Ellis Custom Clothier CEO Dr. Alex O. Ellis; Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation executive director Brandi Harvey; Steve Harvey Products creative director Karli Harvey; and professional speaker and Disney Dreamers Academy alumnus Princeton Parker.

160401_metro01cIn addition to interacting with all of the aforementioned, the Dreamers met celebrities like film producer Will Packer (“Straight Outta Compton’’); “The Real’’ talk show co-host Tamera Mowry-Housley; Lamman Rucker of the “Why Did I Get Married’’ films and hit film/sitcom “Meet The Browns;’’ and Madison Gibbs, Miss Black USA 2015.

Big dreams
Many of the Class of 2016 Dreamers already have proven that they know exactly what dreams are about and how to make theirs a reality. Six have founded charity organizations and projects, five run their own businesses, four are part of a robotics team (including Miami’s Gonzalez), three are cancer survivors, and two are published authors. All are impressive milestones for a distinct collective of millennials.

Orlando’s Tyrah Rumph is African-American and an exceptional student standout. A senior at Jones High School, she was awarded the principal’s 4.0 grade point average award and has been inducted into the National Honors Society of High School Scholars and National Honor Society of Mathematics. Her dream is focused and will take flight at the University of Central Florida to earn a degree in biomedical science. Rumph remains indecisive on pursuing a career as a pediatric neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon.

Equally interested in the medical field is Steshawna Thomas from Middleburg who dreams of becoming a nurse specializing in labor and delivery. An active senior at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park, Thomas exudes a unique level of gratefulness: “I’ve learned through life that it is a blessing to have all the privileges that I have today and that I should cherish every waking moment,” said Thomas, who added that her desire in life is “to inspire others with encouragement while following my own path to my divine destiny.’’

Change agents
Victoria Tinney hails from one of Florida’s most agricultural cities: Zephyrhills. Tinney has embraced her surroundings in true leadership fashion from receiving the Gold Award from her Girl Scout council to training llamas and alpacas. The 17-year-old is of Hispanic descent, a gifted musician, vice president of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and is on the Zephyrhills Mayor’s Youth Council. Her dream is to attend New York University (NYU) to study psychology with a creative writing minor. Moreover, Tinney seeks to use her experiences to provide a better understanding of the world around us.

Alex Gregory is a native New Yorker who moved to Port Charlotte with his family in July 2015.

The 15-year-old homeschooler is on the right track to save the whales with his fervent interest in marine ecology. Gregory is working toward his SCUBA certification and is in the process of creating an ocean conservation project based on the shrimping industry.

Multiple hospitalizations for a chronic, vascular anomaly that causes her right hand to painfully swell has inspired Valeria Hansen to become a vocal advocate for children with disabilities. The 18-year-old Peruvian drives an hour and a half daily to attend a school that accommodates her physical challenge: Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll Catholic High School in Miami.  “From being in the hospital, I witnessed so many kids who want to further their education, but need more than doctors and tests,” Hansen explained. “I want to make sure they have what they need and are always part of the broad conversation.”

Collaborative philanthropy
While Harvey is best known for his comedic prowess, hosting his own daytime television show, and nationally syndicated radio program, he additionally is a philanthropist with a long record for helping others succeed like the 900 high school Dreamers has has provided opportunities for since 2007.

Along with wife Marjorie, Harvey created the Girls Who Rule the World foundation, the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation and The Steve Harvey Mentoring Weekend for Young Men— a four-day development camp for boys from homes headed by single mothers.

“We are excited to once again join with Disney Parks and Steve Harvey to encourage our youth to dream big,” stated Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications. “Our expectation is that this group of remarkable teens will be the leaders of tomorrow and positively impact the world for years to come. It is our honor and commitment at Essence to be part of that process,” Ebanks added.

For more information, visit DisneyDreamersAcademy.com.

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