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Ernest Hooper: Group of young dreamers from around the country get excited at Disney's academy

Fourteen years separated siblings Latrice Dennies and Brodrick Fields, but the age difference couldn't stop Latrice from being a friend, confidant and motivator to her little brother.

She taught him how to tie his shoes and chaperoned his field trips. When he said he wanted to be a standup comedian, she nurtured his dream instead of questioning his judgment.

Understandably, Brodrick went into a depression last year when Latrice died of breast cancer at the age of 31.

"My sister meant everything to me," said Brodrick, a Gibbs High senior. "When she died, I gave up on everything.

"I put myself in a hole."

Brodrick took a huge step out of that hole last weekend at the Walt Disney World Resort, and that step had more to do with life-changing talks than theme park thrills.

As part of Disney's Dreamers Academy, Fields and 100 other students from around the nation spent three days in an innovative career program.

Along with Clearwater's Arbriel Littleton and Valrico's Le'Amber Dunn, Brodrick received advice from luminaries such as Judge Greg Mathis and the Bucs' Warrick Dunn.

At intimate seminars, they got career insight from celebrities such as the Food Network's chef Jeff Henderson, High School Musical star Monique Coleman and Tony-award winner Anika Noni Rose, voice of Disney's newest princess Tatiana.

Most of all, they got to meet Steve Harvey, host of his own nationally syndicated morning radio show (heard locally on WBPT-95.7 FM) and the academy's driving force.

For Fields, it was a special treat because Harvey is the comedian who first fueled his standup ambitions.

"This was a dream come true," said Brodrick, who was chosen from a pool of 4,000 applicants. "I was on the safari ride with Steve Harvey, cracking jokes, asking him questions. It was mind-blowing."

Dunn and Littleton shared similar sentiments. Littleton, a Clearwater High senior, said she would remember everything that happened during the weekend as she pursues a criminology career at USF.

Dunn, a Durant High senior, walked away with greater drive to attend Florida Atlantic University and eventually become a math teacher.

Such testaments are exactly what Harvey envisioned when he teamed with Disney to launch the program in 2008.

He reflected his commitment through warm smiles, genuine concern and the occasional dose of tough love.

A clear sign that this was about more than publicity came at the end of the commencement when he spent an hour with the students in private without cameras.

"I understand some of these young people are going to go away from here and face a lot of challenges and get sidetracked," Harvey said. "Hopefully, even in getting sidetracked, they'll remember the basics.

"The chance of success is high when you come to an event like this."

For Brodrick, the weekend undoubtedly left an impression. He will attend the University of Central Florida next fall, and hopes to further his comedic ambitions by working at one of the theme parks.

"I just want to get my foot in the door," Brodrick said. "I'll wash the toilets, I'll put on a costume, I'll wear funny shoes, I'll do all of that.

"Now I understand what my sister wants me to do. She doesn't want me lying around being depressed."

None of us want that.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper: Group of young dreamers from around the country get excited at Disney's academy 02/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 11:56pm]
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