Meet the Black Voices behind Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration

Meet the Black Voices behind Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration

The Black talent at Disney play a major part of what makes a visitor's experience unforgettable, especially during their 50th anniversary.

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Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary is not only an event to celebrate the happiest place on earth, but also a way to highlight their dedication to diversity and inclusion. Disney’s been working to increase their representation in all levels of business from cast members to high ranking executives, pulling talent from all walks of life to join the company.

Disney had previously added a fifth key to its Cast Member Training Worldwide titled “Inclusion” which is focused on bringing more diverse candidates and experiences into Disney, reported Spectrum 13. Additionally, the company directed $150 million to programs serving underrepresented communities in 2021, 46 percent of employees are people of color and 50 percent of employees identify as women, per Walt Disney’s website. The Human Rights Campaign has also ranked Disney as the best place for LGBTQ Equality for ten years straight.

To take a deeper dive into the culture of Disney, meet some of their Black staff members who have been enriching the Disney experience with their unique experiences and and perspective.

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Local Green

Local Green

Local Green food truck located in Disney Springs
Local Green food truck located in Disney Springs
Photo: Kalyn Womack/The Root

Local Green, Disney’s first Black-owned food truck, brought their delicious vegetarian and pescatarian dishes to Disney Springs in March of this year. Owned by couple Zak and Robyn Wallace, Local Green opened in Atlanta with a mission to advise Black people they don’t have to sacrifice taste for health. Six months after opening their truck, they expanded to a restaurant. In 2020, they were featured on the Today Show on how their business survived the pandemic. Shortly after, Disney discovered them and decided to offer a partnership.

“With us being the first Black-owned truck here, primarily we want to be excellent. The standards at Disney are set high, as they should be with it being the number one hospitality company in the country, in the world. So we really wanted to take the time to make sure that we excel on service customer experience and operations,” said Robyn Wallace.

She also said once they’ve mastered customer experience, they will set out to expand into the community including educational classes and feeding the homeless, just like they do in Atlanta.

Local Green’s menu is reminiscent of some of our most popular fast-food dishes while substituting heavy meats and oils for a healthier alternative. Zak Wallace drew from his experience in the Atlanta music scene to name each dish on the menu after Hip Hop music like the “Rappers Delight” which is a salmon Philly “cheese steak.”

Wallace said Local Green aims to channel soul food in a healthy way as our traditional dishes are often the cause for health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension. Local Green doesn’t just give you the food but also aims to pair your meal with nutritional education.

“If I can teach you how to make a food, like salmon over quinoa, if I can teach you how to do that, that gives you more value. We have to set up to win and not only for yourself but for your family. This is a family owned business, but really a mission driven business to make sure that people who look like us, people who don’t have access to resources or even concepts like healthy food, at least get the awareness so that they can do it themselves at home,” said Robyn Wallace.

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Walt Disney World Ambassador Raevon Redding

Walt Disney World Ambassador Raevon Redding

Image for article titled Meet the Black Voices behind Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration
Screenshot: Click Orlando (Fair Use)

Walt Disney World Ambassador Raevon Redding, 27, represents the 70,000 cast members of Disney and is the fifth Black man to do so in the last 50 years. Redding has been dreaming of this moment since he was in the 8th grade, wondering what magic lies outside of the famous theme parks.

Redding met the Walt Disney ambassador alongside Mickey Mouse in middle school and he knew then he wanted that job. Additionally, his family was a part of Disney: his mom was a cast member at the Emporium and his father at Cosmic Rays, his aunt worked on Main Street right down from the castle and his cousin had been working with the company for 15 years.

Redding, once joining Disney’s staff, spent years as a cast member, performing in shows and working as a VIP tour guide. Then, he was chosen for his dream job.

“I’m extremely honored to represent my culture, my background, my history, but also the incredible cast members. As a cast member, it is one of those roles that is surreal because you see [ambassadors] everywhere. They’re the official spokesperson. They do recognition events, but until you’re in it, you don’t necessarily realize how big this role really is and how far your reach gets,” said Redding.

In between the sleepless nights and early mornings of work, Redding has been a part of making timeless memories for other Disney visitors and fans. He was present when the first guest touched ground at the Magic Kingdom for the 50th anniversary celebration. He also drove three hours north to White Springs, Florida for a Make-A-Wish reveal, announcing to a family they will be one of the first to get on the Star Cruiser before it opened to the public.

Most importantly, as Redding does his job making others happy, Disney provides him a safe work environment to do so.

“From the beginning, before there was foundation laid, we’ve had such a diverse culture. I think that is what’s super important to remember that we’ve already had that. So now, fast forwarding to make a stance to say, ‘Hey, we want to even more people get that we’re diverse,’ and with the expansion of EPCOT - I mean, we had all different walks of life back then, you know, when [Disney] opened up in the 80s. So for me, I just love that I get to represent cast members from all over and then I can connect with them on a day-to-day basis,” said Redding.

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EPCOT Vice President Kartika Rodriguez

EPCOT Vice President Kartika Rodriguez

EPCOT Vice President Kartika Rodriguez
EPCOT Vice President Kartika Rodriguez
Photo: Kalyn Womack/The Root

What began as a simple vacation to Walt Disney World turned into a life changing opportunity for Kartika Rodriguez, EPCOT’s first Black woman Vice President. Her dream of living in Florida came into fruition when she was given the opportunity to work at Disney full-time. Rodriguez joined Disney in the Industrial Dream Department where she was responsible for seeking ways to improve guests’ experiences from their access to food to riding attractions. Rodriguez worked to expedite things safely for guests to make sure they get the most out of their time at the parks.

She now has 21 years of experience at Disney also worked as General Manager of EPCOT Operations for five years before being promoted to Vice President. Rodriguez said more people of color especially women are needed in STEM because the future depends on it.

“I think one of the things with women in general do, is that we often feel like we have to be perfect before we excel at something or to raise our hand for something. What I would say, and not to stereotype, but sometimes our men are more comfortable with not having a full compliment of expertise and saying, ‘I can do that.’ And I think we as women and people of color have to believe in ourselves and believe that we can do that and take chances. Try different things, you don’t have to love it. But through that exposure, people will see your work ethics you’ll continue to learn,” said Rodriguez.

Disney expanded its dedication to inclusion to the new park transformation coming to EPCOT. Disney is creating a program to bring individuals from the 11 countries EPCOT features to come work in the park and give first hand experience to guests of their cultural experience. In addition, the park will feature a garden for programmed festivals, a purpose-built facility for exhibitions and a new event space for concerts.

“There’s a lot of things from a cultural perspective, there are inherent to this park. It is about the people. And then as our Imagineers think about our transformation, they went out of their way to make sure that it’s about people connecting even the way they think about the neighborhoods: our World Discovery, our World Celebration, our World Nature. You think about World Celebration, specifically, which is the center and they created connections. It’s all about people come together and connecting and using food as a way to bring people together,” she said.

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