Student’s Courage Leaves His Imprint At Disney Dreamers Academy & Changes His Life
William Williams’ classmates called him white boy. They left the lunch table when he sat down. Life wasn’t much better at home, where his family battled poverty, sometimes going without water or electricity and struggling to eat.
Legally blind and living with albinism, a genetic condition that robs the skin of melanin and often affects eyesight, Williams had plenty of reasons to feel down. Instead, he has turned his obstacles into stepping stones.
William, 16, credits the Disney Dreamers Academy with re-igniting his passion to start a nonprofit that teaches youth to become proficient public speakers and, one day, to become president of the United States of America.
“Disney Dreamers said it doesn’t matter what other people say. If you feel like this is where you want to go then you need to take your first step and put your right foot forward and achieve it,” said William, a junior at Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia. “That’s what Disney Dreamers showed me; that I personally could push through my dreams.”
Created in 2007 with Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine, Disney Dreamers Academy encourages youth to dream bigger, discover a world of possibilities and make their dreams come true. The program targets U.S. high school students, ages 13 – 19, and the experience includes a 4-day all-expense-paid trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida for accepted students and one chaperone.
Students compete for participation in the program by submitting an application and essay. A panel of judges select only 100 students each year from a pool of thousands of applicants.
During the program, Dreamers participate in hands-on-workshops, mentoring, inspirational sessions, networking, special entertainment, and of course, fun at the Walt Disney World Resort’s theme parks. As an added bonus, the students also work with established professionals and celebrities relevant to their career interests.
William heard about the program years ago and looked forward to the day when he could apply. He grew up in a predominantly Black environment, where blackness meant having a dark skin complexion. It often was hard for him to accept that he was African American because he had pale skin.
“Sometimes when you keep being told that you cannot be Black because you do not look Black, sound Black, or articulate in a way that is associated with being Black, you sometimes think within yourself and say ‘Well I can’t be Black,’ and reject yourself,” said William.
Despite his challenges, William stayed focused on his academics.