She earned a BA degree in Journalism from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA).
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 but wants to make it abundantly clear that she was NOT educated by the Klan, the Ku, or the Klux.
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.
She specializes in underrepresented populations, racial and gender disparity and human interest stories. Some high profile subjects include music icon Frankie Beverly, Poetry legends: Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and Ntozaki Shange. Entertainers Angela Robinson (Tyler Perry Studios), Chef Amadeus (Food Network), and politicians: Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Senator Anthony Hill, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and more.
Penny is a strong woman of faith who is spiritually balanced, yet unapologetic regarding her inherent belief that God could eradicate bad hair days and traffic [if he really wanted to].
She is a cancer survivor of stage II renal cell carcinoma, dynamically divorced, and mother extraordinaire to Kelsey Nicole Dickerson (24) who gave birth to “Journey Nicole” on February 18, 2012. Like a champion, Kelsey earned her BFA degree in Dance from Jacksonville University four months later (May 2012). She is an amazing dancer who recently deferred her MFA in Dance acceptance at Hollins University for one year and is working as an assistant manager at DTLR Apparel in Jacksonville, Florida.