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17-year-old Ahmad Jeremiah Pearl. (Courtesy Photo)

The envelope came just a week before Christmas, delivering the best holiday gift Ahmad Jeremiah Pearl—and his mother—could imagine.

“The second my mom opened the envelope she started screaming,” Jeremiah recalled of the moment she realized he had been accepted into the Disney Dreamers Academy Class of 2016.

“I was literally speechless and a few tears came to my eyes,” the 17-year-old said. “I was not expecting it.”

His mother, Coppin State University professor Tenyo Pearl, said the news was even more welcome—though surprising—since a previous application had been rejected and because of how limited the program’s spaces were.

“Out of 10,000 applicants they only accepted 100…isn’t God good!” Pearl said. She added, “This is an exciting and wonderful opportunity that I wish all young people in Baltimore could have while it is OK to have a dream, you need a plan of action.” And the Disney Dreamers program helps young people to develop that plan.

Created in 2008 by Disney in partnership with comedian and television host Steve Harvey and Essence magazine, the Dreamers Academy encourages young people with demonstrated creativity and eagerness to pursue their dreams along the pathway to success. During the four-day event at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., the 100 high-schoolers are treated to inspirational guest speakers, immersive learning experiences and networking opportunities all with an eye toward supporting their dreams.

“Having this experience can help me develop friendships and skills that can prepare me for what God has called me to do in life,” Jeremiah said. “And I hope I can inspire other kids to find their calling.”

A student at Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore, Jeremiah said his dreams are to attend college and to pursue a career as an actor, television host, radio personality and philanthropist.

Those dreams, he said, were fostered by his mother—a single parent and educator who home-schooled him and exposed him to experiences such as the theater and to international travel to places including Japan—and his grandmother, the Rev. Reba Fitchett.

“From an early age they instilled that idea of service and the power of giving back to other people,” Jeremiah said.

The Baltimore youngster said he has been involved in acting from a young age after seeing a production at the Arena Players theater and the power of the actors to make people laugh. He is also an Eagle Scout candidate, junior journalist with WMAR-TV’s Teen Media Project, varsity football player, peer minister and a student of the year candidate for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).

His busy schedule, he said, is a blessing.

“Being involved in so many activities means I’m not getting caught up with the traps and negative things in the world,” he said.

As a student representative for LLS, Jeremiah is leading a team in the effort to raise $10,000 by the end of March to help find a cure for leukemia and lymphoma. His involvement, he said, is in tribute to his aunt, former Baltimore Public Schools teacher Doretha Mattie Galloway, and other deceased loved ones who died from cancer.

“Just the fact that I’m helping people get a second chance at life is enough,” he said, “and I know my loved ones are looking down at me and smiling.”

Professor Pearl, who is currently pursuing her doctorate, said she hopes Jeremiah’s story—especially in light of the pervasive negative stories about African-American males—will help inspire other Baltimore youth, and also their parents.

“I hope this can be inspirational to other single mothers that what you put into your children you will get back,” she said.