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 Experiences and Products 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. Throughout the month, they have been sharing these stories on the Disney Parks Blog. Here are the stories of three Los Angeles based cast members:
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 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.
California native and UCLA graduate 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 works 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, 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 [email protected], 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.”