Journalist, Wordsmith, Survivor.

Penny Dickerson Freelance Journalist & Adjunct ProfessorContact: pennydickersonwrites@gmail.com

Penny Dickerson is an independent journalist with a passion for cool people, extraordinary places, and good sushi.

She earned a BA degree in Journalism from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA).

Passionate about words and writing,  in 2012  Penny joined her alma mater, Florida State College Jacksonville, as a Liberal Arts Professor  teaching courses in English composition and Humanities courses including Writing for Non-Fiction, Introduction to Literature, & Film and Literature.

Media contributions include: Florida Times-Union, Florida Courier, ARBUS, EBONY.com, New America Media, Mosaic Literary Journal, Philadelphia Stories, and more.  Prior employment includes English professorships at various northeast and southern colleges.  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 urban shopping center Gateway Towne Center – the gig she insists taught her everything she knows about resilience.

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 the controversial named “Nathan Bedford Forrest High School “in Jacksonville, Florida which has been renamed, “Westside High School.”


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 but wants to make it abundantly clear that she is not a pageant-girl snob.

Prior to winning the National Shrine Pageant, she  traveled Puerto Rico, Barbados, Grenada, Honduras, Panama, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with the 1st Miss Florida USO Troupe and has traveled to virtually every U.S. city and points of the globe as a former TWA Flight Attendant who was known to fly the Vegas red-eye on her days off just to get free shrimp cocktails.

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. Continue Reading »

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Re-Discovering America: The Kinsey Collection


Click link to read: “Re-Discovering America: The Kinsey Collection


Kinsey Tear SheetOne of my favorite subjects and three of my favorite people are Bernard, Shirley, and Khalil Kinsey: The Kinsey Family.

Not only is their commitment to family and each other admirable, but what a story! A genuine American fairytale of how perseverance, patience, commitment, and keeping your heart in the right place will  lead to bringing your dreams into fruition and making a difference in the world.

The Kinsey Collection is one our “jewels.”

A ground-breaking manifestation of African-American preservation, dedication, responsibility, and historical awe. Any opportunity to uplift the contributions and achievement of culture, specifically one’s own, is to be admired and absolutely penned! But to partner with Walt Disney World Resorts and render it an intellectual exhibit that transcends “museum?”  That’s good stuff. It’s always my pleasure to “pen”                         The Kinsey Collection whether in an isolated feature or inclusion with my coverage of the Walt Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey and Essence Magazine.

See my article at EBONY.com following their March 8, 2013 debut at Epcot.



and look for a feature in the “Brush Strokes” section of the May/June 2015 issue of Orlando Arts Magazine. 

Congratulations on your extended Epcot stay through 2018!

Kinseys Bring Historical Treasures to DisneyGREY'S ANATOMY STARS CELEBRATE PREMIERE OF NEW AFRICAN-AMERICAN ART COLLECTION AT DISNEY WORLD History on DisplayKinsey Collection at Epcot Celebrates African-American HeritageHistory on DisplayHistory on Display

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Disney Dreamers Academy “Dreams Come True.”

florida-courier-logoMaking more dreams come true

Filed under METRO

Nine Florida students  among 100 chosen for Disney Dreamers Academy with Steve Harvey, Essence


The selfless drive and passion to advance the dreams of America’s youth was celebrated March 5-8 at the eighth annual Walt Disney World Dreamers Academy with partners Steve Harvey and Essence magazine.

2015 Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World Resort

A nationally recognized syndicated television and radio personality, Harvey joined forces with A-list celebrities, motivational speakers and entrepreneurs to both select and hands-on mentor 100 of the country’s most promising high school students.

Each year, the selection committee led by Harvey, reviews stellar essays that best convey dreams. A record 10,000 applications were received, 9,900 hopefuls received letters of decline, and the blessed 1 percent who were selected received an all-expense paid, four-day career and personal development immersion at the Walt Disney World resort.

Inspired by Jakes, Adams
This year’s consortium of “Dreamers” was represented by 28 states and traveled as far as 3,100 miles with goals to take the medical field by storm, conquer Wall Street as executives or entrepreneurs, and ignite the world as an engineers.

But none shined brighter than Florida’s representative nine.

From Jacksonville to Miami and smaller cities between, the peninsula’s pride are extraordinary teenagers who are cheer leaders, Boy Scouts determined to become  “Eagles,’’ multi-sport varsity athletes, youth members of “Doctors without Borders,” and community activists who excel as volunteers.

Steve Harvey Welcomes the 2015 Disney Dreamers Academy at Walt Disney World Resort

With a parent or guardian in tow and their best behavior turned up, they came – they saw Mickey Mouse, Bishop T.D. Jakes and Yolanda Adams – they learned life-changing skills, and they tweeted their experiences like social media beasts whose smiles rivaled Florida’s infinite sun.

Harvey’s personal picks
The rare chance to meet Steve Harvey up-close and personal was a bonus for every participant, but for Harvey’s successful youth initiative, stardom took a back seat for a more important endeavor.

“The thing that makes the Dreamers Academy best for me, is when I pick the two kids that don’t have no idea what they want to do in life. A couple of people in their family told them they ain’t never gonna be nothing. There are two kids here like that this year.” Harvey stated.

“Every year I [personally] pick two who everybody else has ‘wrote off.’ All those kids are doing well now. Three of ’em are in college, two of ’em in graduate school…that’s what this program is. When you instill something in someone that changes their life – that’s the program.”

DDA 2015 Speakers Resource Group

The hallmark of the academy’s success rests in the accomplishments of the previous 7,000 graduates.

Notable alumni achievement include launching nonprofit organizations and fashion lines featured in New York Fashion Week, publishing magazines and novels, and successful careers in television and film.

Ready for med school
Several of Florida’s nine are stethoscope-ready and some are already clinically astute.

Danyscia Jarvis is a senior in the Health Magnet Academy at Tampa Bay Technical High School. Born in the Virgin Islands, her summers are hands-on at a local hospital and assisted living facility. She dreams of being a neonatal nurse while her peer Shanese Campbell has hopes of becoming an OB/GYN.

Campbell is a 16-year-old international baccalaureate at Miramar High School who plans to attend the University of Central Florida in Orlando, an institution renowned for its pre-med program.

The dual-degree approach is better suited for Roneisha Alexander of Green Cove Springs. A career in clinical psychology and business management is befitting for the Clay High School senior whose illustrious list of extracurricular activities include Habitat for Humanity, “Pay it Forward,” Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s GEMS program, Beta Club and the Clay County Teen Court.

Cornerstone Charter Academy’s Lionell Wright promotes physician assistant as a relevant within the medical field. His dream is to become one via an education at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, a few hours north of his Belle Isle home. Wright is enrolled in his school’s biomedical program and an active member of HOSA (Health Occupations Students in America).

Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks ensures that her partnership with Disney and Harvey will effectively help each of the aforementioned teens realize their dreams:
“This year, we plan to go above and beyond to encourage Dreamers. Our valued partnership with Disney Parks and Steve Harvey represents our commitment to the leaders of tomorrow,” shared Ebanks.


Soundbites for success
While time for theme park convergence was weaved into an otherwise intense schedule, a necessary priority was attending the Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA). Various Walt Disney World theme parks were transformed into classroom settings that placed emphasis on the Dreamers’ specific career goals.2015 Disney Dreamers Academy

Industry professionals including surgeons, lawyers, entrepreneurs, Disney imagineers and others shared invaluable lessons to help catapult dreams.

The art of effective communication and image awareness were taught by Harvey’s adult twin daughters, Brandi and Karli Harvey, founders, CEO and artistic director of Young Fit and Fly. Armed with custom business cards provided by DDA, each Dreamer also learned the art of networking.

Additionally, the Disney Dreamers Academy Speakers Resource Group – official ambassadors of DDA – offered inspiring presentations.E! News Co-Anchor Terrance Jenkins Visits Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Dreamers Academy

But words of wisdom to dream and live by were also plentiful and some of Harvey’s celebrated television friends spoke bountiful truths. A favorite among all Dreamers was Terrence “J” Jenkins, co-anchor of E! News and former host of BET’s “106 & Park.’’

“We had a great panel and talked to the kids about not giving up on your dreams, surrounding yourself with the right people, and just how to stay hungry…a lot of these kids have focus but for me it wasn’t that easy. It wasn’t until I was like 18 or 19. I tried a lot of things, I failed at a lot of things, so when success came, I was always very appreciative,” he shared.

Gospel superstar and radio personality Yolanda Adams emphasized faith.

“One of the things I want the kids to realize is that their dreams ARE possible. If you know what you want to do and believe in yourself, your dreams are possible,” said Adams. “A dream is given to you so that you can accomplish it. That doesn’t mean it will happen in four days, five years, or five decades, but every day, do something towards accomplishing that dream.”

To learn more about the Disney Dreamers Academy program, visit http://www.disneydreamersacademy.com.Congratulations Disney Dreamers Academy Class of 2015!

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Black Men who Motivate: The Power of a dream


Black men who motivate: The power of a dream



150320_metro02Steve Harvey is credited with improving college attendance, career prospects, personal development for more than 8,000 youth who have graduated from his Disney Dreamers Academy (DDA) since its 2007 launch. Partnering with Walt Disney World Theme Park Resorts and Essence magazine has proved to be a winning formula, but a remarkable capstone to celebrate is Harvey’s overwhelming success in motivating youth.Walt Disney World Resort Welcomes Disney Dreamers Academy

While his urban vernacular and candid humor reach more than seven million radio listeners in 60 markets, Harvey willingly closes the gap on numbers when it comes to reiterating the power of a dream. He relies on a little help from his friends.

They include some of the millennium’s most successful Black men who present with honest testimony, an educational approach, and inspiration.2015 Disney Dreamers Academy

Bishop T.D. Jakes
Founder and senior pastor of the Potter’s House of Dallas
Global in stature and faith-based community prominence, Bishop T.D. Jakes is easily a household name.

Time Magazine has named him America’s Best Preacher, and a list of awards and honorariums include McDonalds 365Black Award and BET Honors. He is listed among Ebony’s Power 100 and the NAACP bestowed him the Keeper of the Dream Award.

The charismatic leader of the T.D. Jakes School of Leadership took time away from his 30,000-member congregation to motivate 100 minds at this month’s Disney Dreamers Academy in Orlando.

While his ability to deliver biblical principles in plain-speak is familiar to most, he offered high school Dreamers a light-natured and almost elementary slant.

Jakes shared how he turns negative labels into positive acronyms that motivate. In the example of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Jakes explained that the first letter “A” personified Alice in “Alice in Wonderland’’ who was always at a crossroads. But when she asked her cat which way she should go, it responded, “Which road do you want to take? Any road will take you there!”

The first “D” was an internal hint to Jakes’ legal name Thomas Dexter, who conquered stuttering, and the final alpha “D” encourages him to face his giants like David who slayed Goliath against tremendous odds. The latter moral is to have faith that you can conquer what you believe in life is too big.

For more inspirational nuggets from the bishop, visit http://www.tdjakes.org.

Said Regina Carson, a 2015 Dreamer from Jasper, “I really liked Bishop T.D. Jakes’ presentation because he really connected with each and every one of us with things we go through daily.’’2015 Disney Dreamers Academy

Dr. Alex O. Ellis Author, speaker, custom clothier
A salve to save America’s sagging generation has arrived in the personhood of custom clothier, mentor and gentleman of distinction Alex O. Ellis, Ph.D, founder and CEO of Tied to Greatness, an outreach and image awareness nonprofit.

According to Ellis, his inspiration to implement change was divinely inspired. “After seeing a guy walk down the street looking a mess, God said to me, ‘So what are you going to do about it with your custom suit wearing self?”  From that day forward, he was spiritually challenged to be the solution he wanted to see in communities and continues to lead by example

Program initiatives exist across the country that address the growing problem of how girls suffer the woes of self at an early age. But what about young, Black men who tend to assimilate behaviors to divert from their own body image insecurities?

“I grew up extremely tall and painfully skinny!” Ellis exclaimed. “I had a growth spurt during high school and reached 6’7”, so I was tall, awkward, and didn’t play basketball. I really suffered low self-esteem because I’m tall enough to be a man, but my physique is still for a kid, and none of my clothes fit me right.”

Today, he is an impeccably groomed style-master who has been honored with the distinguished “40 Under Forty Award. He also is the author of the award-winning book, “Restoring the Male Image: Inside and Out.” More information: http://www.tiedtogreatness.org.

“His presentation at DDA was phenomenal! I learned that a suit, including a shirt and tie, is the international uniform of business. The workshop also taught me to pay attention to wardrobe details. I could tie a tie, but not a double Windsor or bowtie. Dr. Ellis taught me both,’’ said 2015 Dreamer Keno Tate of Miramar.2015 Disney Dreamers Academy

Jonathan Sprinkles Motivational speaker
There’s something magical about the way Jonathan Sprinkles captivates the minds of his audiences.

Perhaps it’s his endless energy, his conversation and interaction versus lecture approach, or the eloquence in which he shares with how awkward it was to grow up in South Central, Los Angeles, in a single-parent household where he shared one bedroom with multiple siblings.

He was shifted to seven different households by age 13, and following his father’s cancerous death, he once again moved from California to Texas.

Having the last name “Sprinkles” didn’t help, and he struggled with his identity.

“I was too Black for White kids and too White for Black kids, which left me somewhere in the middle like khaki,” Sprinkles mused.

But despite life’s challenges, Sprinkles learned “what it takes to dream big in small places.”

Today, he’s a nationally recognized, award-winning speaker voted both Speaker of the Year (APCA) and Mentor of the Year (Disney). Sprinkles brands himself as a Connection Coach and is also a noted “television personality, featured columnist, and author of 10 books. To learn more, visit http://www.jonathan sprinkles.com.

A few anecdotal wisdoms he “sprinkled” on the DDA Class of 2015 include:

Fail forward, fast, and first – failure is not final!

Winners are losers who got tired of losing.

Let the struggle make you stronger.

In America, it doesn’t matter where you start; it only matters where you choose to finish.

The secret life of a Dreamer is lonely. It costs to be different. Keep it “100.”2015 Disney Dreamers Academy

Princeton Parker
Disney Dreamers Academy alumnus and motivational speaker Princeton Irvin Parker lives a life with seemingly no back story – he was born and immediately morphed into a phenomenon.

A graduate of the DDA Class of 2012, he joined the DDA Speakers Resource Group where he not only serves on the selection committee that screens essays, but is now one of Harvey’s coveted speakers.

Let’s just say Parker is “in there.”

He is a minister who began public speaking at the age of 2. A quantum leap later at the age of 4, he preached his first sermon and was licensed as a minister by the Church of God in Christ at the age of 7.

Parker’s first revival was preached in 2001. Parker exudes seasoned maturity and if his life sounds like fodder for reality television, it’s not.

The aforementioned is leveraged by a litany of achievements that include earning straight A’s and salutatorian of his high school class. The gifted church organist is a leader among learners at the University of Southern California and exemplary example of a “Dreamer’s Dream.”

Learn more about Parker at princetonparkerministries.com.

Quipped Steve Harvey about Parker: “Something wrong with that boy. Ain’t no way, no how, anybody ‘gon tell me he ain’t 62 years old. Parker is 62. Ya’ll watch out for him!2015 Disney Dreamers Academy

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ENZIAN Theatre & Florida Film Festival 2015

If by chance you have not caught wind or visited first hand one of Florida’s finest establishments that indulges adults via cinematic cool, an on-site and  upscale “Eden Bar” and gourmet food that makes popcorn seem “sooo yesterday,” read my feature on the 30th Anniversary of ENZIAN and the 2015 Florida Film Festival just published in the March/April issue of Orlando Arts Magazine.

Click link to read Penny Dickerson’s feature.

OAM M-A 15 Feature-FFF




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Penny Dickerson Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

John Jay LogoThe Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation





Florida Courier writer gets Guggenheim Fellowship



Florida Courier writer Penny Dickerson was selected as one of 20 U.S. journalists from print, online and broadcast outlets to receive an H.F. Guggenheim reporting fellowship organized by the New York City-based John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice housed at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

150123_front03Over the next year, the Florida Courier will publish a series of stories titled, “Race, Justice, Community: Can We All Get Along?” written by Dickerson, a veteran journalist based in Jacksonville.

Dickerson is the third Florida Courier writer to receive a journalism fellowship. Senior Editor Jenise Griffin Morgan was awarded a 2013-2014 Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Publisher Charles W. Cherry II is a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow.

Diverse experience
Dickerson, a longtime contributor to the Florida Courier, has been a freelance reporter since 2001, advancing from local to more regional and national affiliates. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Temple University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Lesley University.

Her literary approach to news produces engaging narratives across a broad spectrum. However, underrepresented populations are the cornerstone of her pursuits.

She is a graduate of Leadership Jacksonville, the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute’s Minority Writers Editorial Conference, and recipient of the Four Freedoms Fund Immigration Fellowship.

“I owe much of my editorial advancement to diverse reporting opportunities that the Florida Courier has offered,” said Dickerson. “The guidance and support from my senior editor Jenise Griffin Morgan has been immeasurable.”

Focus on Black males
Along with Dickerson, selected Guggenheim Fellows from publications such as Newsweek, the Boston Globe and the Las Vegas Review-Journal will report on issues such as biases in jury selection, the treatment of mental health issues in jails, campus sex assaults, and the implications of the growing commercial marijuana industry.

Dickerson’s research topics are an extension of her 2013, six-part investigative series on “The Life and Death of Jimmy Jackson,’’ which explored the unsolved shooting death of a young Black man outside of a Jacksonville nightclub.

Her upcoming Florida Courier series will explore the continual rise of Black male homicides in Florida in addition to gun laws, “Stand Your Ground,” and 10-20-Life legislation.  The Jacksonville-area African-American community’s relationship with controversial State Attorney Angela Corey will also be examined.

Dickerson will also explore the current racial climate debate around the country as related to the shooting deaths in Florida of Black male teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

National discussion
Guggenheim Fellows were selected from a wide pool of applicants based on editors’ recommendations and on investigative reporting projects currently underway or in the planning stages. Projects must be related to the conference topic for the 10th Annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America entitled, “Race, Justice, Community: Can We All Get Along?” to be held in New York City Feb. 9 and 10.

Each awarded fellowship recipient will receive financial assistance or stipends that enable them to attend the conference and related events.

Only national conference
The John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium is the only national gathering that brings together journalists, legislators, policymakers, scholars and practitioners for candid on-the-record discussions on emerging issues of U.S. criminal justice.

Overall financial support for the fellowships and upcoming conference comes from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

Additional support is provided by the Ford Foundation, Quattrone Center for Fair Administration of Justice, the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project and the Public Welfare Foundation. The fellowships are aimed at encouraging and promoting top-quality journalism on criminal justice.

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Orlando Arts Magazine: Zora Neale Hurston 2015

ZORA Festival FlagIt’s that time of the year again!

The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities is one of my favorite southern events and literary journalism endeavors. Since 2011, I’ve penned eight articles for the festival that were published in either the Florida Courier, Florida Times-Union, EBONY.Com, and I’m proud to add the inclusion of:Orlando Arts Magazine Jan/Feb 2015 issue.

Click PDF link to read my 2015 feature:  OAM J-F 15 Feature-Zora Festival

OAM J-F 15 Cover


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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.”

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