Oakland high school students learn what it's like to work for Disney

Students at Oakland McClymonds High School got career advice from black employees at The Walt Disney Company, which owns popular streaming services like Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu.
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Students at McClymonds High School in Oakland got a chance to find out what it takes to work for The Walt Disney Company.

The school was selected as the first nationwide to host a STEM Career Day during the pandemic by Black Disney Streamers, a group of Disney employees who advocate for more diversity and inclusion in Disney streaming services.

Students heard inspiring stories from a Pixar animator, a marketing manager from ESPN+ and technology leads at Disney Parks, Hulu and Disney+.

They talked about a shared experience of being Black in an industry where they are underrepresented.

Khari Austin-Rawls, a marketing manager at ESPN+, talked about an experience in his first years as a professional in which he was the only Black person in a meeting with 60 employees.

That made him hesitant to talk until a manager told him about a "superpower" he didn't know he had.

"You're not using your superpower. Which is that when you are the only person in a room who looks like you, that means you bring a perspective that no one else can bring. You have to lean into that and that is how you are really going to make a difference," said Austin-Rawls.

Shadeed Willis, founder of Black Disney Streamers (BDS), said Blacks face systematic obstacles in the workplace, whether it is bias or discrimination, that makes it difficult to advance into management positions.

He says BDS is a way for Black employees at Disney to build a support system.

"How do we make environments more inclusive. How do we build more community and support systems for each other when we have those hard days. For those days when we mess up like everyone else messes up but we don't get that second chance to make it right."
Willis said The Walt Disney Company has taken steps to be more inclusive and take a deeper look at its policies as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The frank talk about being Black in the workplace was especially poignant for students at McClymonds, where Blacks make up 94% of the student body.

The school is located in West Oakland, less than 10 miles from Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. But, that distance can seem world apart.

About 90% of students live in poverty and chronic absenteeism has spiked to nearly 20% during the pandemic.

As part of the event, Disney have McClymonds a $2,500 grant towards its Career Readiness program and donated Grogu notebooks to students.

ABC7 has been documenting the challenges the pandemic has caused on students and staff at McClymonds on its ongoing series MACK: A pandemic school story.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC7.


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