Journalist, Wordsmith, Survivor.

Contact: pennydickersonwrites@gmail.com

penny_dickerson_caro_article-small_26761Penny 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, Literature Film.

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 »


Frankie Beverly’s Amazing Career





March 25, 2014

Frankie Beverly Talks 38 Years of Maze [INTERVIEW]

The voice behind every Black picnic, BBQ and wedding of the past four decades discusses the longevity of Maze

By Penny Dickerson 

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The one, the only Mr. Frankie Beverly

Every funk band has a front man. It’s an old-school law obeyed by Maurice White, whose vocals reigned supreme as Earth, Wind and Fire’s fourth element, and Sugarfoot, who kept the Ohio Players roller-coastin’. Frankie Beverly is every bit as iconic—a raw soul master.

He’s the sing-and-sweat powerhouse who personified all-white sexy before Diddy anointed the Hamptons. He’s the stylin’ lady magnet who catapulted the baseball cap as much as the hip-hop movement. And he’s amazing—world-renowned and still selling out world venues with the Maze sextet right behind him.


An inside glimpse reveals a man whose conversation feels familiar without flirtation, save for an occasional “honey” or “sweetie” to segue thoughts. But Frankie Beverly is California cool, a tempered spirit; just an ordinary guy from Philadelphia who turned a “doo-wop” dream into a mind-blowing career.

Beverly’s Beginnings

Born Howard Beverly, the future Frankie Beverly harbored so much love for heartthrob Frankie Lymon that he jacked his name. “I was Frankie Lymon crazy when he came on the scene,” he admits. “People would call me ‘Little Frankie.’ I used to sing Frankie Lymon songs on street corners and people use to throw me money.”

The labyrinth to stardom is a story told over and over, and shared by many in Beverly’s era. In Frankie’s case, church singing transitioned to a teen group called The Butlers, which musically morphed into Frankie Beverly’s Raw Soul. The big break came when the one and only Marvin Gaye made the band his opening act with a single stipulation:  change the name. That nudge originated the moniker that stuck: Maze.

Now Beverly is 67, and the Maze’s “raw soul” identity is more frequently marketed as urban contemporary soul. Their loyal fan base is trained to expect timeless music, as Frankie leads “Joy and Pain” and “The Morning After” jam sessions. Both tunes are legendary for making grown women (and some men) straight scream.

Gratitude, God, but no Grammy

Gratitude and humility seem to precede any and all Frankie Beverly motives, and no one is more surprised by his career than the man who made “Happy Feelings” an anthem long before Bobby McFerrin or Pharrell Williams whistled hits.

“I am most amazed by the success of our longevity,” says Beverly. “I never, ever, ever thought it would be like this. I’m laid back, and I know music is a gift given to me to initiate, and I take that serious. I thank God I have people around me I can trust, they’ve been with me for 30 to 40 years. It’s a real blessing.”

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, ‘Joy and Pain’

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, ‘Joy and Pain’

Despite an amassed catalogue of classics, the Maze featuring Frankie Beverly Grammy Award remains elusive, but it’s an industry snub Beverly takes in stride. “The love the people give us is most amazing,” he offers. “I don’t care about no Grammys. It’s about the reward, not the award. I walk around on my knees I’m so thankful.”

Sam Cooke—Still His Main Man

Does Frankie Beverly meditate? Yes. Does he work out to stay in shape? Negative. He claims no special fitness regime and cites the stage as his ultimate workout. Beverly also hasn’t eaten red meat in 35 years—occasionally chicken, and fish “for protein.”

A high-octane schedule defines Beverly’s existence, so what (if anything) does he listen to for slowing down his internal metronome?

“I don’t really play a lot of music, believe it or not. And when I do, I prefer jazz,” said Beverly, who reiterated a preference for the standards. “I like smooth jazz too, but Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, those guys really still do it for me. At this time in my life, jazz does it. I tell you who I really like is Chris Botti. His music is very nice. But I still like listening to Sam Cooke.”

The late Cooke remains Beverly’s lifelong inspiration. “We were at Philly’s Uptown Theatre trying to get his autograph. [I] said, ‘Mr. Cooke, Mr. Cooke, can you sign mine?’ He said, ‘Have you guys ever been backstage? Well, come on!’ ” The story is credited for Beverly’s own generosity. “I don’t turn people down. I always think of Sam Cooke and how kind and patient he was. He didn’t have to do that for us.”

Beverly on Beyoncé

Frankie Beverly has a simple message for today’s musicians: get back to basics.

“You have to still go back. It’s hard for today’s industry. Studios can’t get business; people are using machines. No matter how much money is at stake, people still want the ‘real deal.’ I want today’s music acts to return to the real deal. No mixing, no machines.”

Black women nationwide owe Beverly a bevy of thanks for time-honored respect. But for the music industry’s hardest working and wealthiest woman, he offers a profitable prediction: “I think Beyoncé is ready to take her next step, and I tell you what I mean by that. She can really sing, but I would like to see her show her skills. I mean, she’s a mom and a wife now. So I’d love to hear her record Christmas carols or perform live with an orchestra… just sing.”

New Music from Maze

A wisdom grin and goatee with gray sprouts are a welcome presence for Beverly, who resides in California’s Bay Area and is “grandpa swaggadocious” to three precocious grand fans he insists “use and abuse him.” Mention retirement and he balks.

“I hope not,” he says. “Something would have to be wrong [with me]. I just want to keep on doing this until I can’t do it anymore.” And he doesn’t plan to stop. But will the eternal performer’s career be complemented by new music?

“I’ve been thinking about it, but ya know, we are a working act,” he says. “It’s not like I can tour and come home. I can’t make great music that way. Back when it was the Kool Jazz and Budweiser Festivals, we could work three months and then take time off to go into the studio. But we aren’t going to piecemeal making music.”

Beverly vows the new music will still be love music—life music— and that he and Maze aren’t going to stray from what they’ve been doing.

“I’m tickled about a new piece on the album titled ‘The Jam of My Life’,” Beverly shared with a sinister snicker. “You meet someone, but you’re already with someone. I know about that all too well, and athletes and these young musicians—or the average person who just has a lot to do—they know these situations all well too.”

We Are One

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly has unified the masses with a legion of hits, but the single closest to Beverly’s heart is 1983’s “We Are One.” No explanation is needed. Still, he offers this: “It’s true. If you are lucky enough to travel around the world, you’ll find we’re all the same and want the same thing: love! People for the most part are good. If not, we would have torn the world apart by now. I’ve learned to not be racist in my life. Our White brothers are our brothers too, and I’m not trying to be some kind of love guru or anything. We are the same.”

Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based journalist whose work can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com.

Read more at EBONY http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/frankie-beverly-talks-38-year-of-maze-388#ixzz2xVpCryi5

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ZORA! Festival 2013 “Sustaining a Culture of Color.”

 ZORA! Sustaining a culture of color

February 7, 2013 Filed under METRO

Annual multi-day festival celebrates life of folklorist Zora Neale Hurston with plenty of art, crafts, history

Master Artist Charles Bibbs is renowned for his ability to bring the nuance of African-American culture to life through his visual artistry. The California resident’s work, like the one above, was showcased at the festival.(PENNY DICKERSON/SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER)

Master Artist Charles Bibbs is renowned for his ability to bring the nuance of African-American culture to life through his visual artistry. The California resident’s work, like the one above, was showcased at the festival.


The town of Eatonville celebrated the 24th annual ZORA! Festival with the theme:  Zora’s Eatonville: Culture as Conservator of Community’s Heritage. The multi-day Zora Neale Hurston namesake event kicked off on Jan. 26 with its traditional pageantry and robust arts and cultural contributions from the African Diaspora to Florida.

A global perspective of the Humanities gave the 2013 occasion a unique educational approach with invited guests from Moscow, Russia and a rare view of Native American life through the lens of award-winning documentary producer Anne Makepeace. The event ended on Feb. 3 with a practical approach to preventive disease for African-Americans by Celebrity Chef Marvin Woods.

The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.) has presented the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities since 1990. Broadly known by the exclamatory epithet – ZORA!, this year’s festival marks the conclusion of a two-year celebration of Historic Eatonville’s 125th anniversary as the nation’s oldest incorporated African-American municipality.eatonville-logo

Arts and literature
A distinctive voice in 20th-century literature, Hurston is best known for the 1937 iconic novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.’’ ZORA Portrait                          

The anthropologist, folklorist, and essayist emerged as a creative force during the Harlem Renaissance and advanced to literary stature as an intellectual who was imbued with a unique ability to vividly portray southern life

Historically deemed nomadic and restless with an exuberant personality and penchant for wearing hats, Hurston was born Jan. 7, 1891 and died Jan. 28, 1960.  The festival in her adopted hometown of Eatonville is held each January in her posthumous memory through visual arts, oral history, traditional crafts, film, and, above all – literature.

HATitude a festival tradition
HATitude in BlackWomen wearing brims as wide as their shoulders and pillboxes touting plumes and netted veils convened at the downtown Orlando Crown Plaza for HATitude!

An intimate affair of brunch and haute couture, the tradition is known as the festival’s hottest ticket in town and allows women ages 21 to 54 an opportunity to be “the stars” for an advance price of $50 and $55 at the door. Rhythmic to attitude, HATitude is celebratory of Hurston’s colorful existence and Renaissance flair for finishing outfits with a hat.

Marjorie Phillips chose a standard black felt hat that was complementary to her petite frame and didn’t make as much noise as the more contemporary and flamboyant chapeaus at her table.HATitude Brunch #1

“I am not really a hat lover at all, “said Phillips. “I’ve heard so many great things about the brunch, but the most important thing I was told was you can’t get in without wearing a hat. For a few hours, I can learn to love a hat.”

Art in Eatonville
Master Artist Charles Bibbs is renowned for his innate ability to bring the nuance of African-American culture to life through his visual artistry. The southern California native currently resides in Riverside and began his career as a street artist who worked as a supervisor for Boeing aircraft.

“I left aviation and became a full-time artist in 1993,” offered Bibbs. “African-American people created a market for African-American art and I was in the right place at the right time.”

Bibbs cannot boast any formal training, but has a degree in business with a minor in Art. From California streets to Eatonville’s Kennedy Boulevard, the spectacled genius joined colleagues on fine arts lane where he welcomed a continual host of fans and emerging artists eager to meet the man who masters both his people and color.Charles Bibbs Master Artist in Residence

“I’m a mixed media artist, mainly acrylic and ink,” explained Bibbs. “I’m a believer that you paint by what you know and what you experience and that’s what I’ve done over the years and I’ve been successful at it…the important thing that I preach is that we need to breed collectors. And they need a starting point.

They need to be able to buy a poster and a print and as they move on, they will be able to understand what they are buying through education.”

According to Bibbs, art is based upon affordability and he belongs to a community of artists who seek to merge the efforts of a mainstream and elite audience to advance the art form and opportunities for all. When asked the advice he would give potential artists, Bibbs imparts, “Approach it like a business and not something so special you can’t part with.”

From tofu to turkey
Everybody screamed for the fresh churned, homemade ice cream and additional sugary delights during the popular “Outdoor Festival of the Arts.” Amidst children performing on the steps of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, street peddlers pushed red wagons filled with candy apples down Kennedy Boulevard while vendors prodded visitors into rows of white tents.Family eating ice cream

For a fixed or bargained price, attendees could purchase everything from pure African shea butter to T-shirts from President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In the biggest tent, adjacent to preferred soul food and fried fish that has watered festival palettes for years, Celebrity Chef Marvin Woods led a one-man campaign to help African-Americans prevent the prevalent diseases that affect our race: diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Behind a colorful set of fresh fruit, exotic spices and natural grain ingredients, Woods simultaneously lectured and demonstrated a healthy recipe using either tofu or turkey for chili.130208_metro01c

“I’m giving you a recipe that is easy and nutritious,” said Woods. “African-Americans are used to smoked meats that are not really naturally smoked, but rather injected with smoke flavors. That’s sodium and creates a high salt intake and leads to diseases that can shorten lives.”

Woods suggested smoked paprika for a spice and the grains Quinoa and Farro as white rice alternatives. Upon sampling the final product, many guests were shocked at their affinity to adapt to the recipe. “I eat any and everything, but I do it in moderation,” explained Woods. “People need to learn the concept of eat more weigh less: 64 ounces of water, five meals a day, and some form of exercise.”

Bridging the Black male gap
Consistent with the festival’s theme, innovative artists represented projects created to give voice to the role of communities in the preservation of heritage.

Houston activist and artist Rick Lowe, founder of Project Row Houses joined Hank Willis Thomas for an opening reception and gallery talk on the cutting edge transmedia art project titled Question Bridge: Black Males.Panel on black male issues at Question Bridge gallery talk

The brainchild of innovators Thomas and Chris Johnson, the two collaborated with Bayete Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair to document provocative dialogue that stemmed from a five-channel video installation representing more than 150 Black men in 12 U.S. cities. Considered more of a “megalogue,” the stream-of -consciousness inquiries run the gamut of family, love, sexuality, community, education, and the most prevalent dilemma for today’s black men: violence.

A predominantly female audience attended an evening community engagement and panel discussion on Feb. 1 in the Eatonville Library following a walk-through tour in the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts on Kennedy Boulevard.

“The project is not just about Black males, it’s about people and how people react when put in a group, and how they react within that group,” explained Thomas.

Featured males posed questions like the poignant, “What is common to us as Black males?” A male responds: “Our commonality is in our history. Our beauty is who we are as Black people.” That respondent then poses his own question and the cyclic inquiry continues.

Captured responses ranged from the candid, “What’s so cool about selling crack?” to an incarcerated Black male in the San Diego prison being asked, “Are you ready for freedom?”  A continued “Talk Back” session was held Saturday afternoon during “Family Day.”

Sustaining ZORA!
N.Y. Nathiri Director of Multidisciplinary Programs outcry for philanthropy to save ZORA“We need a little bit of money from a whole lot of people,” pleaded N.Y. Nathiri, director of Multidisciplinary Programs and Chair of the ZORA! Festival National Planners. The committee dedicated a full page in the festival guide outlining their appeal to “those who value ZORA! Festival. The following is explicitly outlined as follows:

“For the first since the P.E.C. began competing for tourist development tax grant dollars (2002), ZORA! Festival 2013 was not recommended for funding. However, on October 16 (2012), in a first-ever, one-time exception, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, in a 6-1 vote, allocated the $150.000, $1-for-$1 cash match grant to P.E.C. as long as our organization was able to meet certain stipulations…one of those stipulations was to make a report on April 2013 which addresses how well our organization has been able to expand its funding base; and to demonstrate a “broad public endorsement” of ZORA! Festival by documenting the individual financial investments we receive during “the festival cycle,” i.e. November 1, 2012 – April 30, 2013.”

Their first effort to address the aforementioned was to charge admission. Attendees ages 17 and younger were admitted free. Those older were asked to give a cash donation. The future of ZORA! Festival and Hurston’s cultural legacy rests in the contributions left in envelopes provided by the community. Next year the festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

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Destination Orlando: Experience “Grown Folks Magic.”

Click link to original EBONY.COM original article with photo gallery
14  February 2014

Life  /  Travel

Destination Orlando: Grown Folks’ Magic!

Hey travelers, don’t sleep on the Central Florida haven. It’s so much more  than you thought.

     The Aloft Hotel
Don’t get me  wrong ─ Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell’s pixie dust still  rule, but the city of Orlando, Florida’s tourism epicenter also embodies a plethora of  ­­treasures designed to satisfy the adult travelers’ insatiable  thirsts. Forget packing the kids and a salivating Labrador in the family SUV for  a multi-day, whine-a-thon. It’s the 21st Century folks. It’s time for  some “Grown Folks Magic!”

The new kid on the block and beacon of light in the city skyline is the Aloft─the  quintessential hotel and hub for millennium travelers seeking “style at a  steal.” The usual bells and whistles dubbed amenities are inclusive, but these  rooms boast some serious cool; the sleek ambiance alone frees endorphins.  Eclectic décor complements massive living space and mature guests gather nightly  in the WXYZ lounge for wasabi almonds and Smirnoff smiles.

Valet park and experience frugality with finesse by engaging downtown  Orlando on foot ─ grown folks hate traffic! Cultural entertainment is on deck at  Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (November 2014) and a brisk walk several  blocks leads to Church Street Station for hip nightlife and diverse dining  from sushi to subs.  Start with happy hour and end with midnight martinis.  All choices in between are ideal for responsible adults perusing town sans  wheels.  When you’re ready to bounce, Orlando Magic hoops are a  trek away at the Amway  Center.

But, what about your inner child? For those who still crave youthful  engagement, I’ve got three words for you: The History Center.  This multicultural museum is  “Smart, Surprising, Fun” and welcomes The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons through March 2014.  So, get ready to revive your Looney Tunes  memories.  What know this generation about a Wabbit or a Putty cat?   Orlando is the popular cultural capital of the world for its theme park  allure, but this exploratory jewel is so inexpensive, it’s free every Monday  during the summer. “Grown Folks” love free!

Hidden in the heart of Orlando’s municipal district, the Orange County  Regional History Center is a Smithsonian Institute affiliate encompassing four  floors of a restored 1927 courthouse. Interactive limited release exhibits  complement permanent installations like the impressive How Distant Seems Our  Starting Place.  James Weldon Johnson’s poignant poem birthed the  title and patrons of every race can celebrate African-American heritage.   Ancestral beginnings progress to an awareness of Central Florida trailblazers  like Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first licensed black pilot; Folklorist and  author Zora Neale Hurston; and Paul Perkins, the areas first black  lawyer.

Meet the Mack Daddy of Magic in exhibits that chronicle how Walt Disney altered the city landscape with a world that now  includes Africa ─ no passport required.  A short drive invites you to  indulge the Disney Animal Kingdom Resort and Serengeti.  Embrace authentic  African cuisine at Jiko [The Cooking Place] or head back to town for  soul food at Chef  Eddies, a 40- year legacy.

For business or just a quick getaway: visit Orlando. It’s ripe with options  and “grown folks” love alternatives. —Penny Dickerson

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25 Years Strong: The ZORA! Festival 2014


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25 Years Strong: The ZORA! Festival

An eclectic Black arts gathering, this 2014 literary festival should rank high on your New Year’s Must-Do List

By Penny Dickerson

25 Years Strong: The ZORA! Festival

The incomparable Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God is the most notably recognized literary offering of iconic novelist, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston─an African-American humanitarian whose posthumous impact continues to astound global audiences. ZORA Portrait 2Pre-eminent in literary voice, exuberant in character, and a complex, multi-faceted woman, Hurston emerged during the grandeur of the Harlem Renaissance. Not since then has any other writer had such a unique proclivity to portray the nuances of rural southern life with the truth-imbued, spit-fire perspective of Hurston.

Indeed, Hurston embodied a zeal for life, and she personified “festive.” She traveled abroad to conduct ethnographic research in Jamaica and Haiti as a 1937 Distinguished Guggenheim Fellow, among her closest friends was famed poet Langston Hughes, and her audacious reputation preceded her. January marks Hurston’s birth and, too, her untimely death, so it is “southern-hospitality appropriate” that her Eatonville, Florida hometown chose the annum’s first month to offer homage. ZORA Festival Flag

Founded in 1989, the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of Arts and Humanities is hosted the last week of January in Eatonville, the first incorporated and oldest African-American municipality in the United States. Instituted in 1887 by 27 Negro men, their courageous venture was threatened 25 years ago when Orange County (Orlando) proposed widening Kennedy Blvd. into a six-lane highway; the thoroughfare runs directly through the historic town’s center.eatonville-logo

Two spirited women─Mrs. NY Nathiri and her mother Mrs. Ella Mae Dinkins─campaigned along with Eatonville residents to launch a festival honoring the town’s most famous resident.N.Y. Nathiri Director of Multidisciplinary Programs outcry for philanthropy to save ZORA A non-profit 501 (c) (3) historic preservation and arts organization known as The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community (P.E.C.) was established and the namesake affair known as the “ZORA! Festival” was implemented as a free, two-day gathering and later expanded to a nine-day, multicultural and multidisciplinary, award-winning affair drawing visitors from as far as Japan, Russia, Haiti, and highlighting the African Diaspora and other cultures. This year
ZORA! Festival’s golden legacy will be the Silver Anniversary commemorated January 25 – February 2, 2014.

ZORA Festival Promotional Bus

Eatonville, Florida knows how to “festival.” For a quarter-of-a-century, crowds amassing tens of thousands flock to The Town that Freedom Built to enjoy stellar entertainment and an array of handcrafted art and cultural selections.Mature Step Team from Miami getting down on ZORA fest's Kennedy Boulevard SAMSUNGIf Interstate I-4 traffic leading into Orlando doesn’t direct you, follow the aroma of smoked ribs and chicken or southern staples including deep-fried fish and shrimp to the high-end offering of lobster.Lobster to Fried Fish ZORA! Fest has good eats.

Food VendorHot Fried FoodZora Couple Enjoying LunchNot to be missed are the notable celebrity stage, screen, and literary inclusions like Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker who introduced Hurston to wide audiences and personally funded the relocation of her “Kinswoman’s” pauper’s grave to a respectable, cemetery entombment.ZORA's gravesite funded by Alice Walker

In years past, poets Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Ntozake Shange have joined forces with Danny Glover, Cicely Tyson, Elizabeth Van Dyke, Black theatre’s first couple Rube Dee and Ossie Davis and a plethora of enthusiasts who have unselfishly volunteered resources and time to uplift Hurston’s legacy.

Intellectual-discourse is an integral part of the festival and for decades, stimulating lectures by the nation’s foremost philosophers has been offered.Panel on black male issues at Question Bridge gallery talk A “Town Hall” meeting held in Eatonville’s city hall is an anticipated event sponsored by Florida’s Congresswoman Corrine Brown (Third Congressional District). The Outdoor Festival of the Arts concludes each ZORA! Festival weekend with a Friday, “Education Day” which draws an impressive population of students followed by Saturday’s main stage performances and Sunday’s gospel fest.Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown presents a Town Hall meeting at each ZORA! Fest

African Apparel Vendor on ZORA's Festival RowChildren at Education Day celebrate ZORA's love for the artsThree Team in Zoot SuitsSAMSUNGNick Ashford & Valerie Simpson rock the stage at ZORA! Festival 2011SAMSUNGA committed Corp of sponsors sustains ZORA! Festival; however, economic challenges now require The P.E.C. committee to charge admission. “Maze featuring Frankie Beverly” will inspire “Happy Feelings” on Saturday, February 1st for a modest $10.00 admission, while prolific author Edwidge Dandicat facilitates “Words and Voices.” Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly

A three-night ‘RoRuby Dee Framedund ‘Bout Midnight spoken word series will feature Sonia SanchezSonia Sanchez and an evening Gala      honoring legends Ruby Dee and Maya Angelou is scheduled aMaya Angeloulong with the popular “HATitude,” brunch and fashion show celebrating Hurston’s trendy penchant for wearing chapeaus.

Global audiences are encouraged to visit Florida and attend Eatonville’s renowned festival the last week of January as we “Jump at the Sun,” to celebrate 25 years of Zora Neale Hurston.


For a full event schedule visit: http://zorafestival.org

Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based Independent Journalist. Her work can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com.

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Zora Neal Hurston Festival – heart of Haiti

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Celebrating 25 Years of Zora Festivals!


Click link to EBONY.COM original article with event photo gallery.


Celebrate 25 years of Zora! Festivals [PHOTOS]

Zora Neale Hurston’s beloved Eatonville, Florida celebrates 25 years of its annual Zora! Festivals

By Penny Dickerson

The ambassador to Morocco, a Florida congresswoman, two mayors, an Emmy-award winning actress, and a Tony-nominated Broadway star were among the prestigious in attendance for the silver anniversary celebration of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities held in Eatonville, Florida—“the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States.”

A novelist, folklorist and anthropologist, Hurston is the town’s distinguished native daughter. And in her honor, a nine-day, multi-disciplinary gathering has attracted global Zoraphiles whose prodigious adoration has overwhelmingly sustained the event. “Celebrating Our Milestone: 25 years of Zora! Festivals” convened the last week of January, and included a plethora of intellectual panels bookended by poetics, comedy, drama, an outdoor street festival and an African elegance and black tie honorarium gala.


Congresswoman Corrine Brown served as honorary chair, but is a longstanding festival supporter who secures sponsorship, and in 2010 ensured that Haiti was an integral theme following its devastating earthquake. Brown’s political influence is credited for the presence of Ambassador Rachad Bouhlal, of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco, who shared, “A photo of Zora Neale Hurston is in the Morocco airport, which is a testament that she is loved all over the world.”

A notable Harlem Renaissance presence, Hurston embodied deserved hubris and an indomitable spirit that served as a blueprint for survival during an era that suppressed Black women’s dreams. In 2003, the United States Postal Service granted her likeness the ultimate stamp of approval, and lapel pin replicas were Congresswoman Brown’s gift to thousands of attendees.


The exclamatory Madame Zora would have loved the revelry, beginning with a Black History Month kickoff hosted by sponsor Onyx magazine in the rotunda of Orlando’s city hall. Opera singer extraordinaire Curtis Rayam, Jr. lifted his booming voice and sang during a program that recognized contributions extended by municipal officials and representatives from the Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community, Inc., under the leadership of President Marie-José Francois, M.D. and Mayor Bruce Mount.

Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer presented keys to the city, and while the evening’s programmatic agenda was necessary, dual midnight parties awaited. Wednesday and Thursday’s Round ’Bout Midnight Spoken Word and Stand-Up Comedy set the tone for an arts awakening in Eatonville reminiscent of Hurston—an effervescent wit and storyteller said to have tickled the hiccups out of all whom embraced her.


Emmy-winning actress Lynn Whitfield joined actor Avery Brooks onstage Friday night for a dramatic presentation, arguably the festival’s highlight. ZORA LIVES: An Evening with Zora offered an attentive audience a stirring portrayal of Hurston (personified by Whitfield), while counterpart Brooks weaved through song and baritone delivery with masterful finesse.

The Zora! Festival Celebrates 25 Years

Zora Neale Hurston Festival 2014

Michael Dinwiddy and Elizabeth Van Dyke, each seated parallel upon a stool, conceptualized and directed the program of readings set under soft lights. Whitfield and Brooks captivated the audience with whimsy and reverence through Hurston’s literary catalogue, including Dust Tracks on a Road, Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Moses, Man of the Mountain.  A series of notes titled A Life of Letters offered intimate insight into the pride and pain Hurston experienced through her storied life. Despite her untimely 1969 death, for a single evening among surviving relatives and friends, Zora lived.


Friday invited busloads of students and “everyday folks” to party down Kennedy Boulevard.  Saturday welcomed sun, and women donned hats and attitudes for the famed HATitude Brunch in remembrance of Hurston’s ubiquitous style, featuring fur-trimmed and feathered chapeaus.

Rows of white tents saluted each side of the street, where vendors sold select must-haves and youth from Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church performed Negro Spiritual and Hymns: Down Through the Years. An international food court pleased the palettes of an amassed crowd sprawled on the festival lawn in anticipation of a sold-out concert.

Famed R&B crooner Frankie Beverly proved he’s still got that fit body and the sultry vocal goods to lead Maze through a series of funk favorites including “Joy and Pain,” “Back in Stride,” “Happy Feelin’s” and the unifying hit, “We Are One.”

Dinner and an awards ceremony closed Saturday evening with red carpet sophistication. Voice and violin was offered by former Island Records recording star Miles Jaye, while Melba Moore hit high notes and held them long with an impromptu a capella tease. Referencing early career discrimination and her discovery of the Schomburg Center for Black Culture, poet, activist and scholar Sonia Sanchez accepted the Richard A. Long Award for long-term dedication to the Zora! Festival.

What began in 1989 with a table and a dream ended on a poignant note by Elizabeth Van Dyke, who closed the evening with class:

“I love Zora. I love my people. I love African-American people, and I love N.Y. Nathiri [director of multidisciplinary programs]. We have to just keep on doing what we’re doing… keep pushing and pushing that rock up a hill.”

Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based independent journalist. Her work can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com.


The Mark of ZORA!

The Florida Times-Union ~ Jacksonville.com


Festival celebrates talents of Eatonville author Zora Neale Hurston

By Penny Dickerson Tue, Jan 21, 2014 @ 12:24 am | updated Tue, Jan 21, 2014 @ 12:32 am

Zora Neale Hurston is perhaps best known for her 1937 book, "Their Eyes Were Watching God."  Special

Zora Neale Hurston is perhaps best known for her 1937 book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

The mark of Zora Neale Hurston left an indelible impression on a global fan base.

And for a quarter of a century, Hurston’s Eatonville hometown has hosted an annual multi-day, multi-disciplinary festival to celebrate her literary legacy. This year’s event Jan. 25 through Feb. 2 commemorates a silver anniversary-themed: “Celebrating Our Milestone: 25 years of Zora! Festivals.”

The novelist, folklorist and anthropologist lived in Jacksonville in the 1920s and returned a number of times until her death in 1960. She is perhaps best known for her 1937 book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and is said to have influenced such writers as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison.

Mildred Alene Murrell, a 95-year-old Jacksonville resident, wrote the book, “Zora Neale Hurston: In and Around Jacksonville, Florida in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s.”

“Well, Zora was like a genius,” Murrell said at a Ritz Theatre book signing last year. “She was talented in so many areas. She could sing. She could dance. She could do poetry. She could write. Her storytelling was fabulous, because she could make up such funny stories, especially when she was talking to the little ones.”

Congresswoman Corrine Brown traditionally holds an annual town hall meeting at the festival, but for the anniversary celebration this year, she plans to host international dignitaries to illuminate Hurston’s research abroad as a distinguished Guggenheim Fellow.

Another highlight will be Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, who will headline an outdoor performance at 3 p.m. Feb 1.

The festival also includes workshops and discussions, a Bethune-Cookman University concert chorale, book fairs, a brunch and party, family day, garden tours, the silver anniversary gala and outdoor festival of the arts, among other events. Some events have a nominal charge, others are free.

Hurston’s legacy also extends to Jacksonville’s Clara White Mission.

“Eartha M.M. White and Zora were close friends during an era difficult for Negro women with few rights,” said Clara White CEO and president, JuCoby Pittman.

“It’s important to expose others to how far we’ve all come with the help of others.”


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