Freelance Journalist

penny_dickerson_caro_article-small_26761Contact: pennydickersonwrites@gmail.com

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

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and an Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA).


Temple UniversityLesley LogoPassionate about words and writing, Penny has augmented her freelance writing life by working as an adjunct English professor at  Florida State College at Jacksonville where she once taught English composition and Humanities courses including Writing for Non-Fiction, Introduction to Literature, & Film and Literature.

Media contributions include: Orlando Arts Magazine, Jacksonville Arts & Business Magazine (ARBUS), EBONY.com, New America Media, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Florida Times-Union, Florida Courier, Philadelphia Stories, Daytona Times, Tallahassee Women’s Magazine and others.. Continue Reading »

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Penny Dickerson Awarded New America Media Fellowship

new america media

2015 Equal Voice Fellows and Scholars Announced

NEW YORK — (August 21, 2015) — Marguerite Casey Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2015 Equal Voice Fellowship and Scholarship.

Sixty journalists nationwide competed this year for six journalism grants to support at least one or a series of investigative and exploratory reporting projects on critical poverty issues in underserved communities. These include projects on faces of poverty in the southern Appalachian region; economic struggles that Latino families face in Los Angeles; and the interface between poverty, race, gender and HIV.

Selected fellows will receive a stipend of $2,250, plus up to $1,000 in travel reimbursement, while $500 and up to $800 in travel reimbursement for the scholars.

The fellowship and scholarship will provide the journalists from ethnic and mainstream media with an opportunity to deepen their understanding of critical issues of poverty in communities that they serve and to increase the public’s understanding of poverty in the United States.

This year New America Media oversaw the application and selection process.

Marguerite Casey Foundation, a private, nonprofit grantmaking organization, seeks to increase the public’s understanding of the issues and policies that affect families living in poverty. The goal of its journalism fellowships and scholarship on poverty is to support a cadre of journalists who, through their reporting, can document the intersection of policy and poverty and dispel the myth that people are poor by choice.

The Fellows are:

Araceli Martinez Ortega, La Opinion, Glendale, CA
Araceli will look at economic challenges that confront Latino families in the Los Angeles area. Her five-part series of stories will focus on Latinos who live in overcrowded dwellings, parents who make a living from collecting garbage or street hawking, and families who survive on fast food meals.

Beth Walton Braaksma, Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC
Beth will explore the demographics and different faces of poverty in southern Appalachia, highlighting the diversity of the region’s poor. Her two multimedia stories will include interactive features such as maps, video and photo slideshows.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Plus Magazine, Valle Vista, CA
Jacob will examine the intersections between poverty, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV. His investigative series will focus on the criminalization of HIV, the role incarceration plays in HIV transmission, the link between depression and HIV, and trans women with HIV.

Merdis “Penny” Dickerson, Florida Courier and Daytona Times, Tallahassee, FL
Penny will give voice to Florida’s poor by reporting from four-quadrants of the state: Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Daytona and Miami. Through profiles, vignettes and features, her four-part series hope to shift public perception and broaden awareness in areas that critically affect the definition of poor people of color throughout Florida.

The Scholars are:

Justine May Calma, The Ground Truth Project and Columbia University-New York, Brooklyn, NY
Justine will examine how teen pregnancy, reproductive health and family planning are factors in economic inequality in the United States. Her fellowship stories will have accompanying video that follows the lives of young parents, showing what happens when teen moms and dads grow up with a family in tow.

Rachel Hinton, The DePaulia, DePaul University-Chicago, Chicago, IL
Rachel will focus on redlining — the practice of drawing red lines on a map to determine which neighborhoods would receive approved mortgages — and its effects on Chicago neighborhoods, contributing to segregation of the city. Her series will also look at the policies that allow redlining and how its presence can still be seen in today’s communities.

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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.

Penny Dickerson Freelance Journalist & Adjunct ProfessorOver 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. Continue Reading »

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Flagler County: Jim Crow, Discrimination, Class Action

Daytona Times





Mission accomplished for Flagler students, NAACP


Dr. Amir Whitaker, who spearheaded a complaint against the district for racial disparities in school discipline, will speak at the Aug. 29 Freedom Fund Banquet in Palm Coast.


The Flagler County NAACP annual Freedom Fund Banquet will be celebrated on Aug. 29 with a heightened triumph, thanks to its scheduled keynote speaker Dr. Amir Whitaker, attorney and educator for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

150820_dt_front01A civil rights and education stalwart, Whitaker spearheaded a federal civil rights complaint that led to a recent settlement between the SPLC and Flagler County School Board aimed at ending racially discriminatory school discipline directed toward Black students, which includes excessive suspensions or expulsions.

The class-action victory was reached in June following a three-year battle that began in 2012 when the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization filed a formal complaint on behalf of three African-American students and a same-race populous of others whose education and civil rights were similarly affected.

Disparity in suspensions
Flagler County is one of five Florida school districts the SPLC filed complaints against and the first to resolve its case. The most egregious disciplinary habit alleged in the SPLC’s initial 22-page complaint was out-of-school suspensions.

African-American students in the district accounted for 31 percent of all out-of-school suspensions during the 2010-11 school year even though they were only 16 percent of the student population.

“The state of Florida is No. 1 out of the 50 states when it comes to suspending students and telling them to go home and stay out of school…,” stated Whitaker who entered the juvenile justice system at age 15 and went on to successfully earn five college degrees, including a juris doctorate from the Miami School of Law and master’s and doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Southern California.

“This is a great day for families in Flagler County,” stated Whitaker in June. “The Flagler County School Board has demonstrated with this agreement that it is committed to ensuring that no student is needlessly pushed out of school. We are excited to work with the schools and the district to introduce these new policies and improve education for Flagler’s 13,000 students.’’

The Hammock Beach Resort at 200 Ocean Crest Drive in Palm Coast will host the NAACP and guests beginning at 6 p.m. The Community Service Award will be presented to the Rev. Edwin Coffie, pastor, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. Music will be provided by Darnel Butler & Xpression.

Florida’s Jim Crow past
Florida’s history and tourism boasts St. Augustine as the nation’s oldest city, but less than one hour away is neighboring Flagler County, the last county in the state to desegregate its schools.

The state’s failure to invoke haste continues to plague the district’s educational status. It further aligns with the varied discrimination and biases against disenfranchised groups that the SPLC has fought against since its founding in 1971.

According to the SPLC website, “Our lawsuits have toppled institutional racism and stamped out remnants of Jim Crow segregation; destroyed some of the nation’s most violent white supremacist groups; and protected the civil rights of children, women, the disabled, immigrants and migrant workers, the LGBT community, prisoners, and many others who faced discrimination, abuse or exploitation.

Whitaker amplifies that inherited issues have been carried over from history and because Florida is a former Jim Crow state. “There were two separate school systems here in Flagler…” he said, “and if you look at student outcomes today, you still see two separate stories, and we are trying to address that to where all students are achieving at the same level.”

“Flagler is one of 67 counties in Florida that is still under what is called a ‘court jurisdiction order,’ Whitaker asserts. “The United States Department of Justice came into Flagler in the 1970s to investigate school desegregation,’ he added.

Blacks statistically behind
Flagler County has been an A rated school district for four straight years (until its fall to B last year) and ranks No. 12 of 67 counties, an indicator based upon the FCAT scores.

However, Black students still defy the nostalgic W.E.B. Du Bois formula that the public educational school system is supposed to nurture and showcase “The Talented Tenth,” where talented, educated Blacks lead and elevate the masses.

The White male FCAT reading passage is 62 percent vs. 26 percent for Black students.

Not a single Black student was enrolled in an Advanced Placement science class in 2009-10, and just 35 Black students took AP classes at all.

In the entire district, just 12 Black students were enrolled in the gifted education program.

The courts found proven biases in tests taken by Black students including biased language (such as idiomatic terms), which may not be familiar to Black students.

Flagler County had 1,821 school suspensions in 2013 of which 33 percent were Black students. In 2014, Black students comprised 36 percent or 1,557 of all suspensions.

Moreover, Blacks represent 39 percent of those suspended multiple times.

“It’s a civil rights issue,” stated Whitaker, “because every child has the right to be in that classroom receiving that instruction every day, and unfortunately in Florida, it (suspension) happens here more than any other place.”

Coalition for Student Success
The settlement agreement was unanimously passed by the Flagler school board and calls for the SPLC to withdraw the complaint it filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in 2012.

It expires in June 2018 placing the district in a probationary period with the SPLC and holding it responsible for fulfilling specific requirements that include expanded accountability for an existing committee that predates the settlement called the “Coalition for Student Success.”

Comprised of 11 members, the coalition consists of parents, students, community members, one of whom must represent the local NAACP chapter, the sheriff’s office, a mental health counselor and a representative from the school district’s administrative staff.

They are required to hold their first meeting of the school year by Sept. 15 and must then meet at least quarterly to review disciplinary data and make recommendations to the superintendent regarding disciplinary policies.

All subsequent quarterly meetings must be public with notices posted two weeks prior, and the panel must also provide a final annual report to the district’s board of directors.

New policies
Concrete policies that stem from the reached agreement are vast, but ultimately seek to eradicate the most discriminatory disciplinary actions: suspensions.

District approval will be required for suspensions of five or more days this upcoming school year, and for three or more days in the next school year. The district will consider eradicating suspensions completely once an alternative school program is created.

The agreement further mandates that Superintendent Jacob Oliva write an advisory letter spelling out the mission of school resource deputies. Oliva will collaborate with SPLC attorneys to establish satisfactory language. The latter aspect of the settlement hints that the district may eventually “re-establish an alternative program.”

A previous alternative school program was closed following budget cuts.

“We appreciate the agreement; I think it’s a collaborative, cooperative kind of agreement,” said Colleen Conklin, chairman of the Flagler County School Board. “When we tend to shine the light on things we tend to know what we’re working with, and work better to try to improve them.”

The school district and law enforcement also will work to reduce in-school arrests for minor offenses and schools are encouraged to consider alternatives to suspension like peer mediation and an innovative restorative justice program.

The SPLC is still pursuing federal civil rights complaints in Escambia, Bay, Okaloosa and Suwannee school districts.

For more information on the Freedom Fund Banquet, contact Chairman Donald Matthews at 646-220-9600 or the NAACP at 386-446-7822.


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Public Shooter? “Run, Hide, Fight”

Daytona Times




Dealing with danger in public places



Seminar teaches residents how to increase chances of surviving shooting


Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood grew up believing there were two places he always would be protected – school and church.

150813_dt_front01For recreation, movie theaters were favored. Today, none of them are safe havens and in the past three years, each has been a targeted location for tragic shooting sprees by lone gunmen.

In response to attacks at public places, the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD) along with the Volusia County-Daytona Beach NAACP and the Black Clergy Alliance held a free community workshop on Aug. 6 to inform residents how to increase chances for survival if confronted with an active shooter.

“Shortly after the Charleston shootings, I was contacted by (NAACP President) Cynthia Slater about putting together a seminar for the churches and their staff to discuss being more secure and preventing copycat killings,” Chitwood told the Daytona Times this week.

“This was in July and very well-attended. Afterwards, she and I, along with Rev. Derrick Harris, president of the Black Clergy Alliance, discussed how this not only happens in churches, but schools and movie theaters so we should open it up to the community. And that’s what we did,” Chitwood added.

During the seminar at the Daytona Beach Police Department headquarters, attendees viewed a DVD titled “Run, Hide, Fight,” produced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.(DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

Working together
More than 100 people packed a room in DBPD headquarters for the seminar on Aug. 6. But Chitwood notes that he and the NAACP previously united when he invited them to the department’s two-hour seminar on “Race and Policing” hosted by Dr. Randy Nelson of Bethune-Cookman University, which was later opened to the community.

“The NAACP has established a positive relationship with the department through open and honest dialogue that addresses the concerns of the community,” Slater told the Times. “It is important to me as president to convey to the public that law enforcement must form a positive relationship with organizations like ours in an effort to establish community trust.’’

Slater further stated the conciliatory relationship demonstrates to the public that the NAACP is scrutinizing the department and has high expectations for law enforcement to protect its citizens.

Active shooter profile
The Aug. 6 workshop offered salient points to follow if confronted by an active shooter and better defined who fits the profile:

An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. In most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.

Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims.

Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

‘Run, Hide, Fight’
Attendees viewed a DVD titled “Run, Hide, Fight,” produced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“You should be checking out a movie theater before the movie starts,” warned Chitwood. “God forbid if a fire were to break out or if somebody came in with a gun. Ask yourself, ‘Where would I go? Can I dive under a seat or how would I escape the line of fire?’ The first thing you do is run.

Don’t talk on your cell phone.’’

If you can’t run, hide. Seek a place where there is good cover or concealment where you won’t be seen. Lock and barricade the doors to any office and don’t make a sound. Place your cell phone on vibrate.

If you’ve got nothing else left and you’re faced with “kill or be killed,” use anything at your disposal, including a fire extinguisher or chair. Do anything you can to knock the shooter of his balance.

According to Homeland Security, when the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him or her. Citizens should call 911 when it is safe to do so.

Shooters’ motivations
Chitwood notes that in the last 15 years, active shooter scenarios have more than tripled and is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Recent attacks in Louisiana and Tennessee have commanded headlines, but the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was committed in 2012 when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot to death 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The same year, 25-year-old James Egan Holmes sprayed bullets into the dark at a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. And in June, 21-year-old Dylan Roof released a barrage of bullets in the basement of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., and nine people were killed.

The shooters in both Tennessee and Connecticut were both deemed mentally ill and in Charleston, Roof had forewarned friends of his action, but they didn’t alert the police.

“These shooters are motivated by racial hatred, governmental hatred and people don’t want to hear it, but mentally ill people are running around with guns,” said Chitwood. “That’s what’s scary. How do you fight that? How do you stop that?

I don’t have all the answers.’’

‘Be proactive’
Chitwood has received more than a dozen follow-up emails from attendees and Slater’s posture is that the seminar was beneficial to people in general.

“I thought that it was well attended. However, I wish that there were more citizens from ‘our’ community in attendance,” Slater remarked, referring to African-Americans.

“We as a people must learn to be proactive about issues, particularly with the rise of active shooters,’’ she added. “Proactive means that we must be prepared in the event of a crisis.

Oftentimes, it could be too late.”


“100 Beds by Christmas Mr. Mayor.”

Daytona Times

Daytona residents continue to advocate for homeless



Public advocates for homelessness were armed with picket signs and fury at the Aug. 5. Daytona Beach commission meeting. The messages Mayor Derrick L. Henry and six city commissioners were forced to view until the near two-hour session convened read three poignant words each: “Housing Not Handcuffs;” “Shelter Can’t Wait;” and “Beds not Bars.”

George Buckner and Mike Pastore approach the podium during the Aug. 5 Daytona Beach City Commission meeting. Pastore, also known as Pastor Mike, told commissioners: “This is not an abstract statistic, these are human beings. Basic necessities like food, shelter, security can no longer be ignored.’’(PHOTOS BY DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM)

The status of homeless citizens in and surrounding Daytona Beach remains a controversial subject of debate and when Item 7 of the city’s public agenda went “live,” public comments offered by representatives from the faith-based community to the homeless themselves addressed the emotional investment of those advocating change.

‘Something simple’
Despite plans in the works to erect Volusia Safe Harbor, a “Come as you are” 32,800 square-foot homeless facility, a divisive “air” continues to loom. Some local residents believe alternatives are being ignored while the homeless population wants the entire equation simplified:

“All we want is something simple. A place where we can lay our heads at night and not get beat up and harassed by the police,” stated “Ronald,” who addressed the commission on what it is like to live homeless. “A water fountain and a restroom. That’s all we want, that’s all we need. We don’t need some multi-million dollar shelter run by some guy making $1 million dollars a year,” he added.

Shelter with a price
The Volusia Safe Harbor may be open by the fall of 2016 if funding is acquired.

Volusia County has agreed to contribute $4 million and donate a parcel of land, but an additional $1.6 million is still needed. Local municipalities are the targeted contributors and a beverage tax may be a viable source for funds.

Renowned field expert and consultant Richard Marbut is spearheading the project and stated, “Homelessness will likely increase dramatically if the current service model continues.”

Statistically speaking
Marbut’s 39-page analysis submitted in 2014 included the following:

Residents hold up signs advocating for the homeless throughout the Aug. 5 city commission meeting.

Moderate climate initially draws homeless to our area.

•Estimated 375 to 400 homeless individuals are located on the western side of the county and 400 to 475 on the eastern side of the county.

•50 percent to 60 percent of homeless individuals have major mental health issues and 70 percent to 80 percent have substance abuse issues and 90 percent of all homeless individuals have at least one or both of these issues.

•To create a successful program, it is important to change the current “culture of enablement” to a “culture of engagement.”

Feed programs alone don’t address the root cause of homelessness.

•When compared to other counties with similar populations, Volusia County has a relatively high number of “street feeders,” meal programs and church pantries.

•Mental/behavioral health, substance abuse, job training and life skills need to be addressed.

Urban core revitalization
A 200-bed, mixed-gender shelter for the chronically homeless is not the only option, according to public advocate Jenny Mazak, who is compiling research and plans to share her findings with the City of Daytona Beach.

Mazak addressed the commission with a perspective on revitalization: “The city has vacant houses and buildings all over its urban core. I have new ideas that would encourage growth if more properties were freed up and lived in, rented, and used.

“Vacant buildings have an impact on crime and property value that demoralizes people from moving in if they see a neighborhood with boarded up and empty buildings,” she added.

Mazak further expressed that it appeared the city had a concern regarding allowing certain organizations and groups to put up beds for the homeless in the urban core in their efforts make it a more desired area.

“I get the impression the city is worried that having homeless shelters in the urban core would negatively impact development,” added Mazak.

‘Someone has to speak’
Mike Pastore approached the city commission’s public podium with a posture to preach. He’s known in the community as “Pastor Mike” and has been appointed to the Volusia/Flagler County Homeless Justice Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In his public comment address, Pastore stated: “Someone has to speak for the poor and destitute in the city. Someone has to ask the questions that no one is asking, someone has to represent the powerless.”

Every Tuesday, Pastore broadcasts live via radio on “Voices from Home.” He predicts there are 329 unsheltered men and women in Daytona Beach and shared that he probably knows half of them by first name.

“This is not an abstract statistic, these are human beings,” Pastore told the commission. “Basic necessities like food, shelter, security can no longer be ignored. Why are they being devalued and disenfranchised. Do they not possess the same rights as all human beings?”

Petition for faster action
A petition generated by Change.org can be found on Pastore’s homeless advocacy website calling for elected officials and leaders in Volusia County to take faster action for emergency shelter for the homeless.

Pastore previously suggested a three-prong approach to the issue: 100 temporary shelter beds by Christmas, 250 emergency shelter beds in 24 months and 100 units of supportive housing as soon as possible.

“You cling to a fantasy that building a building out of town will make your perceived problems go away,” Pastore stated. “Homelessness is not a crime. You can’t make people go where they don’t want to go. The solution is to coexist and it can be accomplished if we work in harmony.”

Citing the failure of South Africa’s apartheid system of separatism and suggesting Daytona set an example for other cities, Pastore closed passionately with six resonate words, “100 beds by Christmas, Mr. Mayor.”

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King Street Studios featuring Shannon Reeves

It’s taken me a minute to upload my feature on King Street Studios which was featured in the July/August issue of Arbus Magazine – Northeast Florida’s Arts and Business Magazine.

I interviewed Shannon Reeves back in 2009 for the Florida Times-Union when she was still a proprietor in Historic Five Points. Relationship(s) matter, and I strive to develop those that stand the test of time. It was a pleasure to catch up with the eclectic and talented Shannon who is now a bona fide married chick and a mama too.

As always, the women in business, artists in non-traditional settings, and the cultural community (period!) are generally underrepresented by the mainstream press. I don’t specifically declare the latter as my literary mission, but I absolutely embrace it as a passion.

Click the link below to view and read the article via an archived digital copy of  arbus magazine!


Arbus Cover

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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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