February marks Black History Month, a time to celebrate the voices, stories, and contributions of Black and African Americans. Among the companies honoring Black History Month is Disney, and one way Disney Parks is recognizing the month is by sharing stories about their talented cast members and the important work they’re doing to create more diverse and inclusive experiences and products across the world.
Tracey Powell is Disney Signature Experience’s Vice President of Travel Services for Pricing and Revenue Management, and a champion for young people with big dreams.
A native of Gary, Ind., Tracey graduated from Indiana University with a B.S. in Finance and earned her MBA from Barry University. Being from the Midwest she never visited Orlando as a child and always believed she would work for a large manufacturing company. But she followed the same advice she now gives to people beginning their career, “be open to everything and you never know where it will take you.”
Nearly two decades ago, Powell’s career took her to The Walt Disney Company in resort pricing. Within two years of her arrival, she was promoted to an executive position. In her current role, she is responsible for providing the vision, oversight, and leadership for Travel Services Pricing, and Revenue Management supporting Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, and Adventures & Expeditions.
Powell is the executive champion of Disney Dreamers Academy– a program committed to inspiring youth and making a difference in their lives at a critical time – the high school years. The four-day immersive and transformational experience at Walt Disney World Resort provides an opportunity for them to explore their future dreams and aspirations. Her love for this program ignites hope and drive into high school students to pursue their dreams, and even reminds parents to never stop dreaming themselves.
As executive champion since 2009, Powell passionately oversees and advocates for Disney Dreamers Academy which provides life-changing opportunities for 100 students each year. “This program has a profound impact on the students,” Powell said. “They come to us with an abundance of ambition, and we foster their dedication with guidance, mentorship, and development opportunities. One dream can change the world, and through Disney Dreamers Academy we hope to help these amazing teens turn their dreams into reality.”
Carmen Smith is Executive Creative Development and Inclusion Strategies for Walt Disney Imagineering, where she leads efforts to help ensure that Disney attractions and experiences are relevant to guests.
A native of New York, Carmen graduated from Hunter College with a degree in communication arts. She earned her Master’s degree in International Administration from New York University, and in 2007 received an Honorary Doctorate from the Metropolitan College of New York. Always curious and fascinated by the world around her, Carmen’s accomplishments and accolades reveal that at heart she is a storyteller.
At Disney and ABC, she’s credited as a producer, writer, champion of new talent, leader of creative development, and more. Her work is rooted in a passion for the power of inclusion, which has led to numerous achievements recognized by some of the world’s most prestigious organizations – from top media and nonprofits to think tanks and universities.
Today, she helps cultivate a culture of inclusion and its role as an integral part of the creative process at Walt Disney Imagineering. As part of Imagineering’s longstanding history of enhancing attractions with new magic, she not only seeks to tell stories that are inspiring and enlightening but ones that are relevant and makes all guests feel welcomed.
Among her responsibilities, Carmen, with the support of a team of highly respected cultural advisors from around the world, is involved in the development of two upcoming Disney park attractions – the reimagining of Splash Mountain to a theme inspired by an all-time favorite animated Disney film, “The Princess and the Frog” and enhancements coming to Jungle Cruise that build on the beloved story of the iconic attraction.
“We create experiences that make people feel welcomed, seen, and heard, and let them know that their stories are important,” she said.
Chris Sheppard is director of Event Strategy and Broadcast Production at Disneyland Resort. In addition to his daily role, he dedicates himself to helping grow the next generation of Black leaders at Disney.
At 17, Chris was hired at Disneyland, where he worked at Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes. From there he progressed in his career, holding roles in operations, marketing, and special events. As he’s grown at Disney, he’s had the opportunity to work all over the world, including on the grand opening of both Shanghai Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and he even worked on a project at the Rose Garden at the White House.
Today, as an executive, Chris is chair of PULSE, one of the Business Employee Resource Groups at Disneyland Resort, where he serves as a champion for career networking and professional development opportunities for Black cast members and promotes authentic representation for the Black experience in our products and experiences and works with other cast members to explore and share business insights.
“It’s critical to be able to see yourself reflected in leadership,” he said. “There has been a long history of under-representation of Black leadership and leaders of color in general. So hopefully this can have a positive impact on changing this as we move forward.”
Demarcus Johnson is Assistant Manager of Public Affairs for Disney Consumer Products, Games and Publishing. In this role, Demarcus works to help ensure thoughtful launches and authentic storytelling across a wide variety of merchandise including toys, clothing, books, console games, and more.
During his time at Disney, he has worked on various projects related to Black and other marginalized communities, including working with cultural consultants on merchandise programs for Walt Disney Studios’ 2019 film The Lion King, where he learned more about the African diaspora.
He currently sits on the executive board for Wakanda@Disney, an employee resource group that champions business opportunities as well as professional opportunities for Black talent. As part of this team, he helps build and foster community and advance the careers of Black cast members, while also guiding and influencing the products, games, and publishing businesses to help understand the needs of Black families and fans.
Demarcus’ dedication to elevating and showcasing Black voices served as a catalyst to the pivotal role he played in helping bring Disney and Pixar’s hit movie “Soul” to life via a new collection of apparel and accessories.
He brought in multicultural powerhouse HUE Unlimited and together they identified four emerging Black artists from its community incubator designed for creatives by Black creatives, TONL, and worked with the teams at Disney and Pixar to lead their creative direction in crafting original inspired-by artwork. The collection features artwork designed by Bee Harris, Bianca Pastel, Arrington Porter , and Cory Van Lew, who each took to the canvas to capture the soul of the film and its heartfelt story of music, family, friendship, and self-discovery through their own unique lens, life story, and experience as diverse creatives.
“In all things, my purpose is people. Recognizing the rich history of my heritage, it’s a privilege not just to add to that legacy through cultural works like the Made with Soul collection, but to reflect the beauty of our culture, to us and others, on the world stage.”