Meet Penny Dickerson

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Contact: pennydickersonwrites@gmail.com

Penny Dickerson is an artist whose primary form of expression is writing.. She earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA).  She will transition as an English & Creative Writing Instructor at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and join her alma mater, Florida State College Jacksonville, as a Liberal Arts Professor in 2012 teaching courses in English composition I & II and Film.

Penny is additionally an Independent Journalist contributing to the Florida Times-Union, Florida Courier, ARBUS, EBONY.com, Mosaic Literary Journal, Philadelphia Stories, and more.  Prior employment includes English professorships at Virginia College, Adjunct/High School collaborative positions with Sussex County Community College and Hopatcong High School (New Jersey) and teaching posts for Duval County Public Schools. As a fundraiser, Penny served as Assistant Area Director of Development for the United Negro College Fund’s $1 million Orlando team, and is  former Marketing Director for Gateway Towne Center.

Born Merdis Lavonda Robinson in El Paso, Texas, she was given the nickname Penny by her mother, but friends close to the helm refer to her simply as “P.”  Raised a “military brat,” Penny traveled extensively and attended various primary/middle schools, but ultimately graduated from Nathan Bedford Forrest High school in Jacksonville, Florida. Pageantry afforded her the opportunity to pursue higher education, as she won several teen pageants and was further crowned the first black Miss Florida Junior College (Miss America Preliminary) and held the title Miss Black Florida.

Prior to winning the National Shrine Pageant, she  traveled the Caribbean with the 1st Miss Florida USO Troupe and has experienced all points of the world as a former TWA Flight Attendant. Penny is listed as an Outstanding Woman in American, Who’s Who In American Junior Colleges, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and is a Leadership Jacksonville Alumni. She is an American Symphony Orchestra League Management Fellowship finalist, Creative Capital Professional  Development  Workshop participant, and recently participated in the  2011 Minority Writer’s Seminar sponsored by the National Board of Editorial Writers.

Penny specializes in human interest stories and interviews. Some high profile subjects include music icon Frankie Beverly, Poetry legends: Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Ntozaki Shange. Entertainers Angela Robinson (Tyler Perry Studios), Chef Amadeus (Food Network), and politicians: Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Senator Anthony Hill, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and more.  She is a cancer survivor currently penning a non-fiction work titled, “The Lemon Tree,” which she hopes to release in late 2014.

Multi-day events are a favored editorial specialty and incude the Zora Neale Hurston Festival (2011-2014) and the Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine Disney Dreamers Academy (2013; 2014).cropped-zora-festival-promotional-bus1.jpg

Penny beholds an abiding love for God and is the divorced, single parent DDA Banner Redto Kelsey Nicole Dickerson (23) who gave birth to “Journey Nicole” on February 18, 2012. Like a champion, Kelsey earned her B.F.A. degree in Dance from Jacksonville University four months later (May 2012).

She recently deferred her MFA in Dance acceptance at Hollins University for one year and is working as an assistant manager at DTLR Apparel in Jacksonville, Florida.

Kelsey and Journey laughing

Penny is a proud, proud, proud

“Nana P.”   


Exploring Kongo Art & Culture (Harn Museum)


[AFRICAN CONNECTION] Kongo Across the Waters

Penny Dickerson explores the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art’s  celebration of the Kongo Kingdom

Click here to read link to Ebony.com:
Ndunga MaskThe global perception of Africa is  often lathered with stunning scenery from the Serengeti and the symbolic pride  of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Indeed, the second  largest continent in the world is an amazing conglomerate of regions—a resource  for wealth and a tourist magnet for its sprawling beauty. But beyond the  beatitudes are historic war atrocities, an AIDS epidemic, gross famine and  shameful middle passage origins. If respectable balance exists, it’s the uplift  and celebration of the rich culture Africans have contributed to  humanity. Among them are archived remains which confirm the relevance of a  powerful kingdom called Kongo.

Kongo Across the Waters is a groundbreaking art exhibit that opened  October 22 at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (at the University of  Florida—Gainesville). The vast installation invites a national audience to tour  distinct, artistic aspects of Africa for free. With an emphasis on West Central  Africa, more than 160 maps, artifacts, sculptures and contemporary works  comprise an impressive collection spanning 500 years that is educational in  approach, yet culturally appreciative through creative layout and  design.

“At its height, the Kongo Kingdom occupied a pivotal  position—geographically, geopolitically and culturally—in the continent’s early  interaction with Western colonial powers, creating a legacy that can still be  felt today in the Diaspora communities of the American Southeast,” offered Susan  Cooksey, curator of African art at the Harn. “We’re especially pleased to  include in this exhibition several artifacts from the Kongo Diaspora that have  rarely been seen in a museum setting.”Kongo 2

The Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) in Tervuren, Belgium co-organized  the unique collaboration with the Harn museum, which was inspired by numerous  directors, curators and scholars who have invested decades of study in African  Art. Serendipity merged initial meetings between Guido Gryseels, the  director of RMCA, and David Sammons, dean of the University of Florida  International Center. Perhaps yards away on the same campus, Cooksey and  colleague Dr. Robin Poynor, professor of art history, were in the midst of  ongoing discussions to develop an exhibition dedicated solely to the Kongo. All  great minds eventually met and Harn Museum director Rebecca Nagy unequivocally  endorsed the genesis of Kongo Across the Waters.


According to Dr. Poynor, who has authored numerous books on  African art, the Kongo kingdom was chosen for the exhibit for a number of  reasons. “They have exquisite art, they were one of the early kingdoms  known throughout Europe, and the Kongos were involved in the early slave trade,  so there were a great number of Kongos who not only sent slaves out but came as  slaves,” Poynor explained. “An underlying foundation for African-American  culture is Kongo culture.”

The task of compiling a “visitor-friendly” exhibition void of complexity  could have been daunting for the team; however, innovation, accurate timelines  and a commitment to dignify and uphold the ancestral heritage, philosophies and  preserved Kongo identity served as formidable guidelines for success.Bedia-Sarabanda_CP

Thematically divided into five distinct sections, Kongo  Across the Waters begins with 1598 European maps of the “Congo” depicting  the Kongo Kingdom as a separately established territory from the town of Mbanza  Kongo, located south of the Congo River. The Kongo kingdom was in place prior to  European arrival in 1483, but when the kingdom actually began remains  debatable.

First and foremost the exhibit is about the Kongo people—their lives,  customs, and culture. Kongo nobility and elitism is evidentiary as they  exchanged prestigious gifts with Europeans, which illustrates the Kongolese were  intellectual and savvy traders who later evolved as artists that recognized  their masterpieces were valuable commerce. An array of antiquated wood, copper,  brass and metal crucifix symbols and Saint Anthony figures substantiates that  Christianity conversion and religious zeal served powerful roles in Kongo  culture.Nkisi

Museum walls painted in earthen-tone hues separate each  exhibit section, further complemented by larger than life murals to create a  powerful visual aesthetic. While most of the authentic arts and artifacts are on  loan from Belgium’s RMCA, Kongo culture travels across the water that brought  African-Americans like cargo to the United States in 1619 during the slave trade  in a section II segue.

Recent excavations reveal startling archaeology discoveries exposing  cultural treasures, ranging from a jeweled rosary with two medals and a  conjurer’s cache of stone, pins and quart found in the Charles Carroll house  excavation in Annapolis, Maryland. The latter is believed to be the personal  hidings of an enslaved woman. Colonoware pottery from the Dean Hall plantation  in South Carolina and Ft. Mose in Florida are also on view.

Culture and custom merge in sections III and IV, as the  exhibit visually crosses the water and returns to the Kongo kingdom, where rites  and rituals are explored in the examples of iron and vegetal fiber double bell, ngongi, and wood carved whistles. A Voudou (voodoo) Medicine  Packet from the History Miami Museum resonates the role of early Haitian  spiritual beliefs.

Huge Nkisi

Hanging displays of massive raffia mats and stunning textiles used to lay  upon graves and numerous “anthropomorphic power figures” known as nkisi reinforce that Africans believed in the preservation of life through  healing, embraced high regard for the existence of spirits, and gave eternal  honor to the dead.

Remarkable is the selection of contemporary art submitted by  a culturally diverse quintet of artists, which brings the five-century Kongo  journey millennium-forward. Among the standouts is a mixed-media collage by  Radcliffe Bailey. The framed “medicine cabinet” traces his own identity and  roots, including his DNA sequence to slave ships, Marcus Garvey and more.RB08%20001%20Returnal%20HR_CP

An interactive music platform includes sound sticks and earphones that allow  patrons to experience five separate tracks of traditional Kongo music, while a  commissioned video produced by a Louisiana trio (Royce Osborn, Freddie Evans  Williams and Luther Gray) combines the folkways and emerged customs from gospel  to hambone to juba and jazz.

From coiled baskets and bowls, pots topped by human figures,  face vessels from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and an  extraordinaire 20th century memory jar, Kongo Across the Waters gives honor to a  delicately restored and preserved cultural heritage African-Americans perhaps  unknowingly retain to this day.Kongo 5

Kongo Across the Waters will remain in Gainesville, Florida until  March 23, 2014.


Read more at EBONY http://www.ebony.com/photos/life/african-connection-kongo-across-the-waters-999#ixzz2l0x5AAYq Follow us: @EbonyMag on Twitter | EbonyMag on Facebook


Eight-year-old Martin Richard: The first dead brother of the Boston Bombing Blast.

Breaking Boston News

Boston Marathon Street SceneJust like the rest of the world, last week’s bomb that blasted Boston during the world’s most famous marathon shook me at my core. Again? Terrorism? A bomb?  For the most part I avoided television beyond the initial day and opted to read numerous reports from national news affiliates.

Afterall, reading is fundamental.Headlines from around the globe

On the third day, I decided to write. I was tremendously moved and saddended by the death of eight-year-old Martin Richard. I am a mother, a grandmother, a human being with compassion. So many of the details I read made the circumstances worse. No one was reporting (widely) about his sister who is now an amputee or his mother who endured surgery on her brain.

Since last week, reports have emerged regarding the brothers, white cap and black cap, both of whom have been named prime suspects in the bombing, a cowardly act of domestic terrorism with proported foreign terrorism links.

I refuse to glorify the two Chech brothers and further refuse to type their names. They have become the foremost subjects of the bombing as suspects. Less we forget who the real victims are. Eight-year-old Martin Richard was also a brother. An older brother. A younger brother. A son and a human being who deserved to live.

The following are my thoughts from last week’s writing which somehow emerged as both a blog and a poem…guess that makes it a plog or a boem.

Eight-Year-Old Wins Boston Marathon

dedicated to Martin Richard

boston martin richard








Two days ago, a bomb blasted Boston.

Two twin booms, 12 seconds apart startled the tension of trained marathon runners.

Pre-race worries were simply the strength of their Achilles.

Airborne limbs have left the innocent labeled amputees and

once again a young dreamer named Martin has lost his life.

Eight-years-old and already a symbol for peace;

a pint-sized recipient of a headstone he didn’t earn.

Pressure cookers were believed the suspected culprit.

Pressure cookers were believed to be smuggled in duffel bags ─ dark and heavy ─ like gathered skin sagging beneath a coward’s eyes.

According to the White House, President Barack Obama betrayed no emotion in offering his statement to the press:

“Any event with multiple explosive devices ─ as this appears to be ─ is clearly an act of terror.”

This can only mean one Commander-in-chief thing: It’s ON!

The city of Boston has been blasted.

The remnants have birthed blame and the young, late Martin Richard’s mother can’t sleep. Her baby boy is dead. She, too, was damaged by the bomb ─ surgeons’ saved her brain. Oddly, God protected her maternal psyche.

His sister lost her leg and a husband and father is simply left to mourn.

America joins him.

I, too, am a woman losing sleep over life. This bomb attempted to erase my memories. Boston was the city of popular frequent during my Lesley University graduate school days. Cambridge and Harvard Square were neck-tie nice and summer-stroll cool but,

Boston’s where you trekked to feel good noise.

Everybody thinks they know Boston for baked beans, clam chowder, and the Sock-it-to me Red Sox, but the bookstores (baby), the massive museums, the jazz and that  Baaahhston dialect that slips through lips as though syllables were birthed to yawn.

There’s something kindred about a bomb at the footstool of folks you knew and still know. Lives were lost; bodies were injured and hurled down streets I casually walked. It feels like a domestic or foreign visitor roamed the same asphalt and spit in patriotic wind.

Boston belongs to everybody because we were 6th grade history, massacre-forced and double s – double t drilled to spell Massachusetts. But I Phyllis Wheatley, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. know Boston.

I former flight attendant ─ Logan Airport remember Boston before the blast. Frankly, I’m feeling all “What the hell?” and 911 pissed all over again. A bomb has killed a beautiful young boy?

While blogging, I’m pumping Quincy Jones’ “Back on the Block” album from way back when.

Big Daddy Kane kicked it off with rhyme;

Birdland has blared;

Sarah Vaughn screamed a sassy scat;

And now Take 6 is acapella acting out.

I’m waiting for Maestro Jones to bless Boston with the reason I’ve always loved Track 12:

Tomorrow ─ (A Better you, a Better me)” featuring Tevin Campbell

 “I hope tomorrow will bring, a better you, a better me.

I know that we’ll show this world we got more we could be

So you should never give up on your hopes and your dreams

You gotta get up, get out, get into it, get it on to be strong…”

 Martin Richards will never see another tomorrow, feel his mother’s warm embrace, or spike chicken nuggets in ketchup during lunch with his third grade classmates. Martin’s race is over; he crossed the Boston Marathon finish line first.

 We are a strong America. We get up, get out, get into it, and get it on.

We keep it movin’ and

We are not deterred by terrorism.

I hope tomorrow will bring a better you, a better me…

I hope tomorrow will bring a better world.

This was the dream of two Martins.

 Penny Dickerson 2013

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Edward Waters College Accepts $2 Million Gift


florida courier

Click link to the Florida Courier website/article:


pajcic law fir

Click link to view the Pajcic & Pajcic Law Firm’s announcement.



Cultivating a friendship proved rewarding for Ed­ward Waters College President Nat Glover. His child­hood friend and renowned attorney Steve Pajcic donat­ed $2 million of his personal funds to the HBCU with no strings attached. But even with friends like Pajcic, the college needs additional funding.Nat Glover

Community stalwart and respected alum of the col­lege, Glover broke a 100-year barrier when he was elect­ed Jacksonville’s first African-American sheriff in 1995 and was appointed the institutions 29th president 15 years later.

He is credited with raising more college funding than any predecessor and further allocated his $250,000 pen­sion benefits toward scholarships for low-income stu­dents.  But even with a president like Glover, more stu­dents need financial assistance.

Long time friendship

Accompanied by his wife Anne, Pajcic chronicled his long friendship with Glover with a jovial approach that ended on a poignant note.  Among the parallels shared were how they grew up as kids on separate sides of Jackson­ville’s Beaver Street.Steve Pajcic

The Milne Auditorium at the college was packed with a sea of students, fac­ulty, and community leaders for Mon­day’s announcement.

“Anne and I have perspective on this gift. Yes, it’s $2 million – which is a lot of money for us – but it is far short of what is needed, said Pajcic. “Obviously, we believe in charitable giving and we’re hoping others will ‘step up’ and do their part for Edward Waters.’’

Remarks by Mayor

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown shares political success with Glover as the city’s first African-American to hold the office. Brown also is an EWC alum. In reiterating the donation’s gravity, he shared, “I think when Edward Waters College is successful, Jacksonville is successful. We can’t be successful without each other.”

With a goal to increase student enrollment by 1,000 in the year 2015, Glover expects to primarily use the funds for scholarships and additional institutional needs.

“The good thing about Pajcic’s gift is that they didn’t require us to name anything after them or say do this, that, or the other,” explained Glover.  “We have a num­ber of needs, but one of our main objectives is to get as many young people in school so they can access an ed­ucation.”

EWC Logo





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Angela Robinson “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”

Arbus NovDec 2013 FKudos to Angela Robinson for serving as a master-example of how a girl with a dream can become a woman boasting stardom.  She is a Jacksonville-native and graduate of William M. Raines High School who has journeyed a route to be admired and an apt lesson for all who dare to dream and are confronted with the “fear of failure.” Angela looking beautiful

What knows Angela Robinson of failure? Nothing. Disappointments? Yes, but she has persevered and shares with readers how they, too, can do the same.

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”


Beyond her natural beauty is an admirable narrative that takes readers from the halls of her high school years to the Broadway stage.  Now, she’s a leading television actress on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network in Tyler Perry’s first scripted drama, “The Haves and The Have Nots.”

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock and were not among the 2 million+ viewers from season one who tuned in, Robinson portrays the affluent “Veronica” and will emerge in season two with an “Ice Queen” persona. Hash Tag –  #twodarnhot.

Haves and Have Nots

Thank you Angela for always being willing and available for interviews. While I’ve previously interviewed you for print journalism during “The Color Purple” National Tour run and the first season of “The Haves and The Have Nots,” this interview and photo shoot marks my writing debut for Arbus Magazine, Jacksonville’s foremost arts and business publication.

Angela Robinson over Jacksonville

This editorial experience was unique in that Arbus requested a personal photo session with Angela Robinson and provided a make-up artist (Kimtasha.com) and Angela provided her own personal stylist. Scheduling was a challenge, but like a trooper, Angela made it work.  Many have asked me, “So…how’d you get that interview?”

Simple:  “I asked.”

But here’s the caveat, while Angela Robinson and I are friends, I have established a proven track record of interviewing her and publishing those works with a “polished voice” that not only represents the best interest of her professional career and image, but also advances my personal body of work as well.

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”


She didn’t “owe me a”yes” because we’re friends, I approached the project professionally, communicated as instructed with the OWN Network in California (a one-hour conversation, but well worth it), and followed their specifications as well. Angela is a contracted actress with a major broadcasting entity and production studio.  It would have been mega easy if I could have just called her and said:

“Chile, let me slap your photo against some words to make a few bucks.”                       (Gasp! I would never.)

Also, it didn’t happen overnight. I think I spoke to OWN in July 2013, the Florida Courier article went to print in September 2013, and Angela coordinated her photo shoot with Arbus in October.  The publication debuted as a feature in the December/January 2014 issue.

Six months

How patient are you to be the necessary professional that allows other professionals to unequivocally trust and represent them? I have learned to be exceptionally patient…although I have my moments of angst (but, don’t we all folks? Don’t we ALL?)

I appreciate you immensely Angela, not simply because we’re “back-in-the-day-to-now” close friends, but because you’re a professional and respect me and my writing endeavors as the same.  I am proud to call you friend, but even more excited to call you: “Jacksonville’s OWN Star.” 

Angela Photo Shoot

Click the Link below to read: Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”


Angela Solo on Haves and Have Nots

To stay updated on Angela’s career, use Twitter handle

@angelarobschild or visit whiterobingroup.com

And did I mention, click the Link below to read:

Angela Robinson, “Jacksonville’s OWN Star!”


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Safe Zone


florida courier


Floridians Fight for LGBT Workplace Rights

Florida Courier/New America Media, News Report, Penny Dickerson, Posted: Nov 29, 2013

Gay rights took a leap forward when the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 to approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The Nov. 7 landmark victory bans workplace discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community who have been on the frontlines of workforce protection for the past 17 years.

The bill now goes to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain future. If it does pass the House, chances are that President Obama will sign it.

Still, for LGBT Floridians, Senate passage brings optimism that the law will extend their current civil rights and safeguard them from discriminatory employment practices that hinder promotions and sometimes lead to termination.

Seeking acceptance

When Sarah Perez left her St. Croix, Virgin Islands hometown in 2006 to live in the United States, her family didn’t know she was a lesbian. They still remain in the dark.

Perez was one of many Hispanics forced to live in a shroud of secrecy in the West Indies, where alternative lifestyles are shunned – if not forbidden.

“Two women holding hands in St. Croix is something you just never see,” said Perez.
At age 19, she moved to Jacksonville with her former lesbian partner and childhood friend.

“I also moved to the U.S. because I wanted to be able to be myself,” explained Perez. “Back home, I couldn’t even dress the way I wanted to.”

For the past two years, she has been an employee at an AutoZone auto parts retailer in Jacksonville. She started as a part-time sales clerk; she recently was promoted to sales manager.

Ridiculed in workplace

Though her employer has recognized her ability to get the job done, Perez admits she suffers occasional ridicule from co-workers, but she doesn’t experience direct employment discrimination.

“I told my job I was gay because I knew they suspected after my girlfriend kept coming in the store,” she said. “They make jokes that sometimes hurt my feelings, and the other day a transgendered male came in and one of the employees laughed and said, ‘Did ya’ll see that?’ Transgenders always have it worse, but everyone in the LGBT community gets ridiculed,” she added.

Bipartisan state bill

In a March poll conducted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service in conjunction with the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, 73 percent of Floridians support a bill that would protect gay and lesbians against workplace discrimination.

On Nov. 5, State Representatives Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) and Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) pushed for passage of a bipartisan bill to ban discrimination in the state for the LGBT community in employment, public accommodations and housing.

An anti-discrimination measure titled HB 239, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, would amend Florida laws that currently prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.

Democrats recognize that 26 municipalities in Florida have implemented ordinances for gay rights – most in the southern portion of the peninsula. Statewide legislation would eliminate limitations to have workplace rights protected in one county, yet denied less than 25 miles down the road.

“From the GOP perspective, our main focus is the economy and jobs,” stated Raschein. “And this is what we’re talking about. People’s jobs, people’s livelihoods.”

Supported by company

The vocal presence of LGBT women helps the legislative efforts.

One of them is Gina Duncan, who ran for Orange County (Orlando-area) commissioner in 2012 as an openly transgendered candidate. She told the Nov. 5 press conference how she worked at Wells Fargo, managing more than 200 people, when she went through a sex change process. The company supported her.

“Corporate America is good with Florida’s Competitive Workforce Act,” said Duncan, who is on the board of Equality Florida and joined Saunders and Raschein as a state co-sponsor. “Corporate America wants this bill.”

Advocates for change

Willetta “Mamado’’ Smith of Jacksonville said working as an independent musician and club owner has proven to offer more personal freedom and peace than being antagonistically mocked on the job.

Smith, 54, has been openly gay since she was a teen and is engaged to marry her long-term partner, Universal Recording artist Alea Janee Dennis. The lesbian couple applauded the efforts to defeat the Defense of Marriage Act and efforts to ban gay marriage. But she believes greater advocacy and sensitivity is necessary for ENDA to become law.

“In the late 1980s, I worked for UPS and helped stock trucks,” said Smith. “I always felt like they never really wanted me there and I never would have gotten that job, but my father was a 40-year company veteran so that got me in.”

In an incident she reported, Smith cites a group of men on their lunch break watching her load trucks outside.

“I heard them laughing and one said he could tell I was a ‘dyke,’ ” Smith related. “I didn’t want an altercation or to say anything I’d regret, so I asked UPS management to move my work duty inside, and they did.”

Challenges for immigrants

Immigrants on the path to citizenship who also are members of the LGBT community face a unique double jeopardy. They must provide evidence of employment to secure a visa.

According to analysis by the Williams Institute, a national thinktank headquartered at the UCLA law school, there are nearly 1 million LGBT adult immigrants living in the United States today. Thirty percent are undocumented.

“Both segments of the community living at the intersection of a marginalized population need workforce protection,” Sharita Gruberg, policy analyst for the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based independent nonpartisan educational institute, said this week.

“They need ENDA to pass and provide a ban against employment discrimination because loss of employment equates to poverty, they lose ties to communities, and it affects their social, economic, and psychological well-being.”

Gruberg added, “We have discovered that the passage of ENDA is not just about an LGBT endorsement. People don’t want their government to support discrimination against anyone – whether they are immigrants or gay.”

This article was produced as part of New America Media’s LGBT immigration reporting fellowship sponsored by the Four Freedoms Fund.

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Jacksonville Inaugurates Mayor Alvin Brown

Click link to read complete story



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BlACK, MALE, and EMPLOYED – Ready4Work & 100 Black Men Programs


June 20, 2013 Filed under FRONT PAGE Posted by

Jacksonville’s Ready4Work and 100 Black Men provide hope and skills to young Black men who are searching for jobs.


JACKSONVILLE – The Florida Department Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles fielded more than 300 inquiries at a job fair earlier this month hosted by Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Congresswoman Corinne Brown. Most of the inquiries came from young Black men.Black Male A1 Lead

Florida Highway Patrol’s Michael Elder, a background investigator, talks to two young men during a job fair in Jacksonville. Elder was scouting for potential troopers.

For an ethnic gender too often on the wrong side of the law, Trooper Michael A. Elder was on hand to inspire interest in becoming a state trooper.

“We have openings and two academies starting this year in both August and January,” said Elder. “The six-to-eight-month paid training is held in Tallahassee and participants must be willing to relocate to any one of the 67 counties in Florida upon completion.”

Few qualified applicants
Only five of the 300 attendees who conversed with troopers at the fair will likely qualify as viable candidates, professed Elder, who serves as an applicant background investigator.

While baseline requirements are reasonable – applicants must be 19 or older, hold a high school diploma or GED, be a U.S. citizen, and have a valid state driver’s license – a statistical divide is created by the stringent screening process.

A potential state trooper cannot have a felony arrest record, a domestic violence charge, or tattoos on their face, hands, neck, or fingers. Each applicant must pass a physical agility test, polygraph exam, psychological screening, and a credit check. Investigators even conduct home visits to speak with family members.

For the many Black males who sincerely want to enter law enforcement, the path to becoming a trooper may prove to be impossible.

There’s hope
ready 4 workJacksonville native Kevin Gay is a member of a presidential advisory council and currently serves on the Florida Department of Corrections’ Prisoner Re-entry Advisory Board. As president and CEO of Operation New Hope, an award-winning, Jacksonville-based community development corporation, he was given an opportunity in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush to pilot the Ready4Work program aimed at assisting ex-offenders.

A felony record adversely affects the employment prospects for innumerable Black males.

Nevertheless, in a single decade, Gay’s initiative has turned dismal outlooks into opportunity and hope.

Poverty, not race
“Our whole issue has been around developing employers in Jacksonville who are willing to hire somebody with a felony,” said Gay. “The criminal justice system really impacted opportunities for many in the urban core to break out of poverty because there were very few employment opportunities, but the real issue of the criminal justice system is not Black or White or morality, it’s poverty.”

The Ready4Work program’s numeral “4” represent the partnership of faith, business, community and criminal justice. According to Gay, “If you create a pathway out of poverty, you’re going to create a pathway out of crime.”

“What we’ve done in America is put everyone in one bucket,” explained Gay. “If you’ve ever been arrested, we sort you in one bucket and write you off and don’t know what to do with you.”

A successful solution has been found in the logistics field, which can be defined as managing of the way resources are obtained, stored and moved to the locations where they are required.

Gay believes logistics companies will be a major employer for the next five to 10 years in Jacksonville.

Through a collaborative effort with Grimes Logistics – one of Jacksonville’s largest business firms specializing in warehouse/packaging/distribution – the Ready4Work program placed between to 80 and100 people; 80 percent were Black males.

A 40-hour course is offered through a partnership with the University of North Florida, and the opportunity to actually obtain logistics certification, makes potential employees marketable and offers leverage to demand higher wages. Jacksonville-based Venus Swimwear is another large distribution company that successfully places Ready4Work participants.

“It’s all an issue of economics,” reiterated Gay. “Grimes now trusts our process enough to use us as their human resource company. They used to extend orders to interview 10 or 15 people. Now they say, ‘you send us 10, we’ll hire those 10.’”

Breaking the cycle
When Gay and potential employers discussed requirements for hiring individuals with felony records, the response was always the same: vet them to make sure they will be on time, exude positive attitudes, pass drug testing, dress appropriately and exhibit a willingness to learn.

“There’s a real science around this system. We have figured it out, and our recidivism, placement, and retention are all good,” explained Gay. “Close to 65 percent of our folks now pay child support, and that’s a testament to the work we do. This whole myth that young Black males don’t want to work or be reliable is simply not true.”

Black male at job fair
100BlackMenAmericaLogoCharles Griggs, president of 100 Black Men of Jacksonville, Inc. leads an organization of professional men who have also identified the perils young Black males face on a daily basis.

“Some folks aren’t always able to circumvent the system when they get in trouble. They are just out of luck,” said Griggs. “We hear often that tattoos are a means of expression. This outlandish body art and dreads have Black males believing they will be accepted into a social rite of passage. As a result, they do what they see on television or mimic their buddies on the street.”

The nationwide organization implements mentoring programs to help promote extended examples for Black males to understand that it is normal behavior to wear a shirt and tie.

Black Male with clipboard

‘Real world’ Jacksonville Programmatic solutions
like “A Day in the Real World” are hosted biannually by the Jacksonville chapter, with the next event tentatively scheduled for August of 2013.

Professional men join forces with fraternities like Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. to offer Black males a “one-on-one” integration into society. The inclusion of members who are prosecutors and attorneys helps Griggs’ efforts to navigate prior or existing felony or criminal justice concerns.

“It is extremely important for them to understand that the system is not built for them to be successful. If you fall behind, you stay behind. But being employed makes you a member of an exclusive club,” stated Griggs.

“We present scenarios that give participants total accountability for all the activities they will have to encounter from getting up in the morning to going to bed,” he added.

For an intense day, more than 150 young Black men indulge in fictitious roles like boss and employee, landlord and tenant, or bill collector and debtor. The results teach coping skills for situations from what happens when the car breaks down to what happens to your family when you can’t pay bills in a crisis.

According to Griggs, “These scenarios are real, but where you are in life doesn’t have to be where you remain.”

Young men want more
Darrius Singletary, age 24, and Mishaa Cason, 25, are two enterprising Black males who are relatives. They manage their own car detail business, but long to be a larger part of the community workforce. They want to be in that “exclusive club” of consistent wage earners.
They attended the job fair along with their mother and were pleased to report that Comcast, JaxPort, and Kelly Services each offered employment prospects.

“The state of the economy dictates that we identify all resources to empower people,” stated City Councilwoman Kimberly Daniels, who was also at the job fair.

“My presence [and city leaders] at job fairs is important because it shows we are not wasting time, but are serious about helping people put food on their table.”

Councilwoman at Job Fair


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