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Johnnetta Cole shares her keys for success with Disney Dreamers Academy

Educator and anthropologist Dr. Johnnetta Cole shares her keys to success with high school students from across the country selected for the 2024 Disney Dreamers Academy.
Johnnetta Cole shares her keys for success with Disney Dreamers Academy
Anthropologist and educator Dr. Johnnetta Cole sits with several students and teaches the importance of self-worth and perseverance during an empowerment session at Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista Fla. on April 6, 2024. (Mark Ashman, photographer)

Disney Dreamers Academy is a unique experience that connects high school students with intergenerational experts who pour into them over a four-day period while they enjoy the most magical place on earth.

Educational icon Johnnetta Cole, 87, invited this class of Disney Dreamers to gather around her for an intimate discussion in the round while she shared decades of wisdom with their fertile and curious minds.

Dr. Cole offered heartfelt stories from her history with the Dreamers, who she labeled as “her people.”  “When they told me I was talking to the Dreamers I was excited because I knew I would be talking to my people,” Dr. Cole explained. “There was a saying the old folks had that would label something as ‘eenchy teenchy.’  I’m here to tell you that itsy bitsy ideas are not ideas worth having.  Enchy teenchy dreams aren’t worth having. You have to dream big for your dreams to matter. Dream big for those dreams to impact people and make a difference.”

Dr. Cole discussed her personal journey into academia and how she navigated her own path to fulfill her passion for learning and anthropology. “My family had ideas about my future, but when I got to school I took a class that changed my life. I didn’t even know how to spell anthropology, let alone what it meant. But I fell in love and I started to dream about what I could do if I became an anthropologist,” Dr. Cole shared.

Dr. Cole also pointed out the highlights of her impressive life story with the captive audience, including her time as the first Black woman president at her beloved Spelman College. A future Spelman student asked her for insight on how to stay encouraged during hard times. “Find your sisterhood.  Your sisters are there to hold you up, when you feel like you want to give up. Life is not designed for us to persevere alone. Going to Spelman, it will be easy for you to connect with a sisterhood for support; that’s what we all must do,” Dr. Cole said.

Dr. Cole encouraged the students to ask questions and she made it a point to consider the student’s perspective as she answered. She championed a student who acknowledged his autism and encouraged others never to allow anyone to label them as anything other than what they envision for themselves. Dr. Cole concluded her conversation by informing the Dreamers of the most important challenge they needed to accept. “Failure is a necessary ingredient for the recipe of success,” she explained, “you must continue to chase your dream in spite of anything life throws your way.”

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Established by Walt Disney World in 2008, Disney Dreamers Academy’s mission is to inspire teens from Black and underrepresented communities to dream beyond imagination by providing life-long access to personalized support for the Disney Dreamer, their caregivers and community through insightful content and uplifting experts, mentors and sponsors. Each year, 100 high school students are awarded a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to experience this four-day immersive and transformational program.

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