Disneyland Parks Honors Black Heritage with Celebrate Soulfully

Following the January events celebrating Lunar New Year, the Disneyland Resort spent February and Black History Month honoring Black heritage and culture through music, food, art and new experiences with Celebrate Soulfully. Previously only held at Walt Disney World in Florida, Collider was invited to check out all the offerings in and around the Disneyland Resort and the Downtown Disney District, where we also got to chat with Princeton Parker, Associate Manager of Content Programming and Synergy, to learn more about the event.

As for why they’ve launched the celebration in Anaheim, Calif., Parker said that it came out of conversations that they have, on an ongoing basis, about how they can we amplify what they’re doing at the theme parks. “‘Celebrate Gospel’ has been going on for 10 plus years. We said, ‘How can we take these things that have represented our longstanding commitment to storytelling and inclusion, and amplify them?’ Celebrate Soulfully does that. It says, ‘Hey, let’s make a month-long invitation for people to celebrate Black culture and Black heritage through all the things we love — food, art and events.’ It’s something that happens in Florida, and now we are joining in the celebration.”

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In Downtown Disney, you were able to catch live nightly entertainment features R&B, reggae, funk, Motown, jazz and Doo-Wop from a variety of different acts, or make your way over to Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen to hear their nightly jazz pianist, and then stop off in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa to check out live music in the lobby. Parker, who went on his first upside roller coaster at Disney California Adventure (at the time it was called California Screamin’, but ti’s since been renamed Incredicoaster) when he was younger, continued by saying, “Getting to be a part of something new, you learn the power of partnership and you learn what you can accomplish when we all put our heads and our hands and our resources together. We’re telling stories that we’re passionate about, about all kinds of communities, and you can see what happens when you let people into that, not just our cast members, but when you let our guests into that, for the whole month. They’re learning things that they might not have had access points to before and it allows us to create what we’re passionate about, which is community. I think the learning here is what we can do together. That’s what Disney is really all about.”



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Image via Disneyland Resort

If art is more your thing, watching Disney cast member and chalk muralist Marcella Swett, a senior production artisan with Disney Live Entertainment, create an incredible, vibrant chark-art installation was a definite highlight. The only sad part about getting to see the award-winning visual artist’s beautiful work was knowing that it would eventually get washed away. There was also some cool art inspired by Disney and Pixar’s animated feature Soul, created by emerging Black artists Bee Harris, Bianca Pastel, Arrington Porter, and Cory Van Lew, the Post 21 cart with a collection of merchandise from Black-owned businesses, and goods for sale at WonderGround Gallery, Pelé Soccer and Lovepop.

If you prefer your celebrating to include food and drinks, the Grand Californian provided the opportunity to order from a special menu at the Hearthstone Lounge that included wines, beer and spirits from Black-owned businesses, or an evening appetizer menu with New Orleans-inspired selections, while Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen was serving creole cuisine that included Louisiana crawfish spring rolls, NOLA BBQ shrimp and grits, and sweet peach tea.


And if you were looking for even more music, “Celebrate Gospel” was held on two consecutive Saturdays – February 19th and 26th – with a show on the outdoor Fantasyland Theater stage. Community choirs were joined by such performers as award-winning singer/songwriter Kierra Sheard, Jonathan McReynolds, The Singers of Soul, and a capella act Sacred Groove, and whether you were familiar with the songs or were hearing them for the first time, you were in for a good time, as the surrounding audience thoroughly enjoyed every note.


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Image via Disneyland Resort

With so many great Gospel acts out there to choose from, Parker explained that the selection of groups performing came out of the Disneyland Resort’s long-standing relationship with the broader Southern California community. “What I love about ‘Celebrate Gospel’ is that we’ve developed relationships with these groups. That’s one way it comes about. The other is really a partnership between our entertainment partners and our internal employee resource group. It’s a partnership between our departments at the Disneyland Resort and our cast members to really decide, not just who comes, but how we can make sure our offerings are culturally authentic and super inspiring.”


The best part of any trip to the Disneyland Resort are the memories that it leaves us with, and Parker agreed. “We wish we could literally be inside these gates forever, but the memories really do last a lifetime. I think what we’re doing with Celebrate Soulfully reflects that. While it may happen in the month of February, the memories and the impact really will stay with us, in our individual lives and our community, far beyond today, this month, and even this year.”

After experiencing what Celebrate Soulfully had to offer, I hope that not only will this just be the first of many years to come for the celebration, but that it will also expand what it makes available to guests, on every level.


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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Image via Disneyland Resort


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