To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Wisdom and Stories from Emerging Black Leaders at Disney

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The Walt Disney Company hosted an empowering panel titled, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” which featured early career talent from across Disney’s brands and businesses. The event’s title was inspired by the play and song of the same name by Lorraine Hansberry and Nina Simone respectively, as well as a quote by Riri Williams, also known as Ironheart, in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. These up-and-coming leaders were gracious to share some of their wisdom, experiences, and aspirations—and we’re excited to bring you the highlights!

Meet the panelists:

The panelists represent a variety of roles and teams from entertainment to news to technology.

Vanessa (Coordinator, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Disney Entertainment)
Vanessa (Coordinator, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Disney Entertainment)
Jianna (Digital News Associate, ABC News – Disney Entertainment)
Jianna (Digital News Associate, ABC News – Disney Entertainment)
Na’Kaila (Senior Security Specialist, IT – Corporate)
Na’Kaila (Senior Security Specialist, IT – Corporate)

What advice would you give to your younger self?

  • Vanessa: I would tell my younger self that there is no such thing as having a perfect life or a perfect path towards accomplishing your goals. My path to where I am now has been the furthest thing from a straight line, and I’m proud of that. I have really leaned into being uncomfortable to grow personally and professionally, and I wish my younger self knew that being uncomfortable is okay.

What advice would you give to your older self?

  • Vanessa: I would tell my older self to show yourself some grace. As I get older and see what I’m capable of accomplishing, I feel this need to be “on” all the time. No one is “on” all the time. I try to remind myself that some days are going to be better than others and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to be proud of.

What have you done to stand out knowing that you might be the youngest or most junior person in the room?

  • Jianna: Sometimes when you’re the youngest person in the room, you want to seem like you have it all together; you don’t want to be the clueless college graduate, so there’s that discomfort or anxiety that can come from asking follow-up questions. One of my supervisors told me, “I would rather you ask me ten questions than mess up something that is going out on national news.” They want to teach you; a lot of them started where we stared. They want to see you succeed.

How did you overcome that fear or hesitation to ask those questions?

  • Jianna: My magic piece of advice has always been coffee chats. Once you start to see your supervisors and your team members as people rather than their positions or seniority, it becomes a lot less intimidating to ask questions. Once you get to know them more on that personal level, the nerves will start to ease.

Have you had a mentor or someone that you really looked up to?

  • Na’Kaila: Starting my career, I sought out my mentors. I knew I was new to a space, being the only Black young woman in cybersecurity. A few of them are at Disney—they’re all invested in my growth. People that see something in you that you don’t see in yourself, people that can identify areas of growth for you. I would say get as many mentors as you need.

What does it mean to you “to be young, gifted, and Black?”

  • Na’Kaila: I’d say to be young, gifted, and Black is embracing who I am as an individual—especially in times of adversity—showing up as my unapologetic self, demonstrating my skills, and showing that I belong in the room.

Vanessa summed up the heart of this conversation when she shared, “We want to pave the way for more seats at the table, always.” Each of these leaders impact their teams with their knowledge, gifts, mindsets, and commitment to inclusion. We hope you’re inspired by their words and wisdom!

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