ORLANDO, Fla. — When 17-year-old Chloe Russell’s eyes met those of 41-year-old motivational speaker Jonathan Sprinkles, she felt an instant connection. Standing atop a stage, Sprinkles captivates the student athlete. She could relate, especially his testimony of watching his father deal with cancer.
Like Sprinkles, Russell is watching her father — the same man who was her basketball and volleyball coach for years, along with her mother — deal with the disease.
“Mr. Jonathan Sprinkles, his speech was amazing,” Russell said. “It hit a lot of points related to my life. I actually have a dad that’s at home battling cancer. He really touched my soul with his experience of having a father that passed away to the disease.”
Russell is part of the group of 100 participants in the 2018 Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence magazine. And on Friday, she and her fellow Dreamers were part of an experience that included tips for life transformation all centered on the theme of the four-day-long event: “Be100.”
“I heard about the Dreamers Academy through my mom,” Russell said. “My mom encouraged me to sign up.”
The 16-year-old is a senior at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. She overcame an ACL injury and harbors a passion for social justice as a member of her school’s Undoing Racism team. A volleyball and basketball player and track athlete, Russell is a 4A volleyball state champion. She plans to major in health sciences and minoring in Spanish, with aspirations to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine with her own practice.
“I think the whole Disney Dreamers is just an awesome experience. This is such a great opportunity. I’m super grateful and ready to Be100,” Russell said.
“My ACL injury changed my life the most out of almost any other experience because I tore it my freshman year, playing basketball trying to save a ball that went out of bounds,” Russell said. “That forced me to look towards other alternatives, such as diversity initiatives and social justice. I’m huge on that aspect. The ACL tear and recovery was a real setback for me, and I went through the strenuous recovery and I got the opportunity to compete for a state champion title my junior year for volleyball. It made me change my path toward not playing basketball anymore and focus on volleyball.”
For Sprinkles, pouring himself into the support of others is more than a full-time passion and commitment. He’s championed the session for the Dreamers for 10 of the 11 years that Disney Dreamers Academy has existed.
“It does replenish me,” Sprinkles told The Undefeated. “Talking to them, sharing with them, seeing their look in their eyes. I got to see something that you didn’t. I get to look in their eyes and see the lights come on, and when it all comes together it’s something special because they now see, ‘You know what, I deserve this. I do have a place at the table.’ And when you see that, that’s the payment. To me this means I get to do for them what was done for me, which is have somebody speak into my life and show me that I can do it.
“The fact that I get to be a voice and I have the honor worth having them believe me, that’s a privilege. It something I look forward to every single year because it’s just something different here. The fact that I get to be a part of it, I’m winning. I feel undefeated myself.”
One by one, at the conclusion of Sprinkles’ interactive discussion, the Dreamers voiced their takeaways from his speech.
“Never tell your life story from the perspective of the victim.”
“I am enough.”
“The more you say it, the truer it becomes.”
“Doubt unlocks determination, but pain unlocks your life.”
“Instead of trying to have likes, be a light.”
“That place in which you were hurt the most reveals the people you have been called to help the most.”
“Find a way to rise above it, find a way out.”
Sprinkles, standing in amazement, told the students that they summed up everything better than he could.
Hudson Osborne was also motivated by Sprinkles’ address. On day two of the event, Osborne feels he’s in the right place at the right time.
“I was online going through programs I wanted to do so I wouldn’t be stuck in school all the time, and I found Disney Dreamers,” Osborne said. “It’s an amazing experience. I was always told I was a good writer, but I never believed it. So for it to really come to life like this is showing me that I can really do a lot with just my writing. I can really achieve that I never really thought that I could see.”
The 15-year-old is a ninth grader at San Lorenzo High in California.
“I play on the football and basketball team. I enjoy speech and debate, also criminal justice,” he said.
As part of his admissions packet, Osborne wrote that “my dreams are to one day become the Secretary of Defense for the United States government and with much more hard work and dedication become President of the United States.”
Those big dreams are in line with the mission of the Disney Dreamers Academy, and day two for the Dreamers is more than in the books — it’s part of students’ newly transformed minds.