Whether recognizing young people who are assisting others in the community or creating opportunities for youth to attend college, Walt Disney World Resort is committed to empowering Central Florida’s youth.
Disney recently welcomed more than 60 local students at Epcot to be honored as youth humanitarians. The event was part of a 17-year tradition in which the City of Orlando Mayor’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission recognizes public middle and high school students for exemplifying the ideals of Dr. King. It helped conclude Epcot’s Tapestry of America: Celebrating African American Heritage,” a monthlong celebration during Black History Month that included historical displays, rare art, presentations by iconic African-American authors and exhibits focusing on African-American culture.
“Through the years, Disney has become a stronger, more successful company by drawing on the unique perspectives, experiences, cultural backgrounds and talents of our Cast Members and community,” said Nancy Gidusko, director of corporate citizenship for Walt Disney World Resort. “With this vision in mind, Disney works to engage local students in strengthening Central Florida’s future through programs that reward their leadership, kindness, creativity and achievements.”
During the City of Orlando Mayor’s Youth Humanitarian Awards, Dr. Terrence Roberts of the “Little Rock Nine,” who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, shared with the students and challenged them to learn daily and to read on their own.
“You determine what your learning needs are. You don’t have to wait for teachers or others to tell you what to do,” he said. “You begin to read and figure out that the mythology around you will have less of an impact in your life because of your own endeavors. Don’t be caught up in the sound bites and buzzwords of life. Pay attention and be the person you have the destiny to become.”
Disney’s commitment to inspiring local young people was commended at the fourth annual Cornerstone Awards and Gala of the Central Florida Urban League (CFUL). The organization honored Walt Disney World Resort with its 2016 Cornerstone Award for Youth Empowerment for support of its “I am an Urban League Kid” program and young professionals leadership programs.
“Walt Disney World Resort has made extraordinary contributions to youth empowerment, one of the four cornerstones of the Central Florida Urban League,” said Glen Gilzean Jr., president and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League. “On behalf of our board of directors, I thank Disney for its dedication to our young people and for inspiring them to become the business and community leaders of tomorrow.”
On the collegiate level, Disney continues to support efforts at Florida’s historically Black colleges and universities. In 2015, Disney donated $25,000 to both Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU).
Former Disney executive Dr. Bob Billingslea recently was honored by B-CU with the new Bob Billingslea School of Hospitality Management. The school’s program includes comprehensive training and “real-world” experience in lodging, food, tourism and business. Billingslea retired in 2012 after more than 40 years at Disney, lastly serving as vice president of corporate urban affairs and development for The Walt Disney Company. With more than five decades of influence in social change and diversity, he continues to serve as an advisor to Disney and the Central Florida community.