Bianca Bennett is bubbling with enlightenment when we first shake hands. The 17-year-old from New York City had just completed a workshop with Dr. Steve Perry at Day 2 of the Disney Dreamers Academy and was eager to share her takeaway from the deep-dive.
"He taught us how to take our passion and turn it into a purpose," the teen told BET.com.
As a child, Bennett spent many years in the foster care system and watched her mother battle with substance abuse. She now sees herself bringing hope to other youth facing those giant obstacles and giving them the tools to knock them down. Bennett is already well on her way to reaching her goals as one of 100 students selected for the 2015 Disney Dreamers Academy.
The annual inspiring event, held March 5 to 8 at Disney World, gathered talented teens from around the country for a weekend of inspiration, career and personal development and fun. This year, kids heard motivational words from media mogul Steve Harvey, gospel singer Yolanda Adams and E! News host Terrence J to name a few.
Bianca took a quick break from the festive weekend to speak on her career and college goals and some of her favorite role models.
BET.com: You want to study African-American studies. Why were you drawn to that field?
Bianca Bennett: I've always been a big fan of African-Americans. I've always been a big culture person and I really want to help my culture and my people when I grow older. That's my goal.
Did any person influence your decision to study African-American studies?
There's a lot of African-Americans in the foster care system, and I just always wanted to help the youth understand. Because usually the youth in foster care, they go out and do bad things and they wouldn't use their full potential to be leaders in society.
I feel like the trademark for African-American people is even through struggles we can always succeed no matter what. And I just want to pull that out of every African-American youth that we can so we can make future leaders and future builders.
You have your eyes set on attending an HBCU. Have you been accepted to any yet?
I applied to Virginia State University, Morgan State University, Howard University, Hampton University and Clark Atlanta University. I've gotten into Virginia State University. I'm waiting for Howard, Morgan State — I've gotten into ... Clark Atlanta. And my top is Morgan State.
As a student basketball player, who are some ballers you look up to?
My favorite female basketball player is Maya Moore. I've been studying college basketball with UCONN and Briana Stewart, but Maya Moore is just a top rebounder.
Do you have a role model?
I really genuinely look up to J. Cole. I feel that his music speaks volumes. He isn't just an ordinary rapper. But in addition, he can take controversy such as the song "Be Free" and he can turn it into a whole different genre that people still listen to and they don’t even know that they're listening to culture.
What are you reading right now?
I just watched the movie 12 Years a Slave and I'm just starting to read the book and it's so in-depth that I haven't been able to take my eyes off of it. I love [Solomon] Northup. I love what he's trying to convey in this book. It's just amazing.
What is your motto for when things get difficult?
My favorite quote is, "I aspire to inspire before I expire." So through any struggle that you have, you have to aspire to be better than what happened in the past.
Follow Natelege Whaley on Twitter: @Natelege_
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(Photo: Gregg Newton/TJM Communications)