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 a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA).
Passionate 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 taught English composition and humanities courses.
Media contributions include: Orlando Arts Magazine, Jacksonville Arts & Business Magazine (ARBUS), EBONY.com, New America Media, Equal Voice, Miami Times,Mosaic Literary Magazine, Onyx Magazine, The News-Leader, Florida Times-Union, Florida Courier, Philadelphia Stories, Daytona Times, Tallahassee Women’s Magazine and others. Continue Reading »
Florida Courier writer Penny Dickerson has been selected to join the communications team of Mercy Ships, a global faith-based charity operating the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world.
Following four weeks of training at the nonprofit organization’s International Support Center in Lindale, Texas, and two weeks of field practice in Senegal, Dickerson will join the Africa Mercy vessel in August while it is docked in Dakar, Senegal.
Joining the Africa Mercy team will be a missions-centered endeavor for Dickerson as the organization follows the model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor.
Mercy Ships has provided free lifesaving surgeries and medical care to developing nations for 40 years. As stated in her job description, writers for the communications team take a journalistic approach in building relationships with both crew and patients in order to capture their stories.
She will additionally provide content to the Mercy Ships’ 16 global offices.
Dickerson, a Jacksonville native who now lives in Tallahassee, will be the first U.S. citizen of African-American descent to serve in this role.
“The impetus for my service aboard Mercy Ships is my own healing and cancer survival coupled with a thirst for spiritual development and growth,” explained Dickerson, who is a member of Tallahassee’s Family Worship and Praise Center.
“I am proud to be a trailblazer and want this experience to encourage more African- Americans to serve God beyond church and pursue volunteer missions.”
Dickerson joins a fellow trailblazer with a passion for mission and Africa — Rosa Whitaker, who has served as the president of Mercy Ships International since 2018.
An African-American, Whitaker was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as the first assistant U.S. trade representative for Africa and continued in this position under President George W. Bush.
She is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on Africa trade and investment and holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees from American University in Washington, D.C. and studied in the United Kingdom and Italy as well as the Foreign Service Institute.
Selected crew for Mercy Ships endure in-depth screening. Dickerson’s fourth-month process began with a long-form application, portfolio submittion, Skype interviews, emotional intelligence analysis, health assessment and a final chaplain(s) review.
Travel abroad is not daunting as her first overseas trip was to Germany as a military brat and later ventured into remote areas such as the Honduras, Cuba, and Panama while serving the United Services Organization (USO).
Dickerson also is a former TWA flight attendant who wants potential funders to her one-year mission to know she’s not seeking a free trip to Africa.
‘NO GLAMOUR INVOLVED’
Dickerson is required to fund her Mercy Ships service, which includes tuition/board for training in Texas, airfare to Dakar, monthly crew fees and most important immunizations, foreign health care premiums, and personal expenses.
“I’ve had plenty of free adventures,” stated Dickerson. “This is a sacrificial service following intense training. I’ll be living on a ship and rotating the same 25 items of clothing for one year. There’s no glamour involved.”
Despite recruitment efforts by Mercy Ships, the number of African-American applicants to join the 1,200 volunteer crew from 50 nations who serve annually has remained below desired levels.
According to Goshen International’s African-American Missionary Fact Sheet, “22 million African Americans identify themselves as Christian, but of that number, only 300 serve as cross-cultural missionaries – a number that is not even statistically significant.”
Goshen further states that missionaries “must pay to serve instead of being paid, so historically African-American missionaries have been seriously impaired by the lack, for whatever reasons, of consistent financial support from African-American churches. Some have had to abandon their work entirely in the latter half of the 19th century.”
Local representation is an important part of Mercy Ships partnership in African nations.
“We recruit and employ close to 250 local citizens in each country we serve who begin as day crew working in technical roles and as translators, offered Pauline Rick, U.S. Public Relations Coordinator at Mercy Ships.
“Though 18 African nations are represented on our longterm crew list, stateside diversity remains a priority. Penny’s accomplishment, talent and desire to serve is a testament that our mission appeals to volunteers from a cross-section of ethnic backgrounds,” Rick related.
Freelance submissions to the Florida Courier began in 2009 for Dickerson and she has since written her way through the ranks to be awarded five journalism fellowships, including a recent Ethnic Media Fellowship, which funds her attendance at the Association of Healthcare Journalists Conference from May 1-5 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Her contributions to the Courier include multiple series on poverty, politics, aging, criminal justice and an array of human interest stemming from special events. Additionally, she has contributed to the publication’s sister paper, the Daytona Times.
“My freelance tenure with the Florida Courier has been an awesome experience that fostered invaluable growth,” stated Dickerson who offered a wealth of thanks to Senior Editor Jenise Griffin.
“While the entire staff embraced me as family, but Jenise mentored me personally and professionally for a decade. She is hugely responsible for my editorial presence being nationally elevated and has always encouraged me with an upbeat, ‘I think you should go for it!’”
TEMPLE, LESLEY DEGREES
The Tallahassee-based freelance writer earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Dickerson’s latter formative years were spent in Jacksonville where she attended Nathan B. Forrest High School (now Westside High).
She also earned an associate in arts degree from Florida Junior College in Jacksonville. She broke barriers while there as the first African American Miss Florida Junior College.
Dickerson, a divorcee, calls herself a doting grandmother to Journey, 7, and Isaiah, 2. Dickerson’s daughter, Kelsey Boyer, and her husband, Donte, and their two kids, also live in Tallahassee.
THE NEXT PHASE
With a busy schedule ahead, Dickerson said she is working to perfect her command of French and looks forward to any available opportunities off-ship to pen stories on Senegalese culture.
Griffin, the Florida Courier’s editor, says this Senegal assignment will be an ideal opportunity for Dickerson to showcase all of the journalism skills she’s mastered over the years.
“I am so proud of Penny and the work she has produced for the Florida Courier and the Daytona Times over the years. Even in the midst of a cancer battle, she churned out well-written, insightful stories for us. She is an awesome storyteller and her body of work shows her attention to detail and how passionate she is about her assignments,” Griffin related.
“Penny will do a great job for Mercy Ships, and I’m excited about this next phase of her life,” Griffin added.
Click the link above to view the PDF of my feature in the July/August issue of Orlando Arts Magazine. This editorial relationship is one that I both enjoy and has dually proved to be a lucrative relationship.
Newspapers are great, but magazines are BOSS!
This feature highlights the power of “Millennials” as a demographic everyone in philanthropy should be targeting as the real “GIVERS” of tomorrow.
As a graduate student at Lesley University, I penned a poem that ventured the impact the mini-series “Roots” had on both my family and formative years. I wanted Alex Haley to be my daddy and all the girls in eighth-grade were teased and called, “Kizzie.” The more haunting truth was it was the last time I could remember that my family convened together in the same room, at the same time, for anything. It was the last “Kodak moment my mind conjured of us merged like one huge afro” to watch television together.
“Roots” was a unifier, a television-viewing change agent, and a history lesson that created “tension” for how we viewed ourselves, our pasts, and the contributions of African-American ancestry. I never thought I’d ever personally meet and converse with “Kunte Kinte,” the lead “wild gazelle” who is now giving my three-year-old granddaughter “Journey” the opportunity to digitally enjoy “Reading Rainbow.”
The global perception of Africa is often lathered with stunning scenery from the Serengeti and the symbolic pride of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Indeed, the second largest continent in the world is an amazing conglomerate of regions—a resource for wealth and a tourist magnet for its sprawling beauty. But beyond the beatitudes are historic war atrocities, an AIDS epidemic, gross famine and shameful middle passage origins. If respectable balance exists, it’s the uplift and celebration of the rich culture Africans have contributed to humanity. Among them are archived remains which confirm the relevance of a powerful kingdom called Kongo.
Kongo Across the Waters is a groundbreaking art exhibit that opened October 22 at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (at the University of Florida—Gainesville). The vast installation invites a national audience to tour distinct, artistic aspects of Africa for free. With an emphasis on West Central Africa, more than 160 maps, artifacts, sculptures and contemporary works comprise an impressive collection spanning 500 years that is educational in approach, yet culturally appreciative through creative layout and design.
“At its height, the Kongo Kingdom occupied a pivotal position—geographically, geopolitically and culturally—in the continent’s early interaction with Western colonial powers, creating a legacy that can still be felt today in the Diaspora communities of the American Southeast,” offered Susan Cooksey, curator of African art at the Harn. “We’re especially pleased to include in this exhibition several artifacts from the Kongo Diaspora that have rarely been seen in a museum setting.”
The Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA) in Tervuren, Belgium co-organized the unique collaboration with the Harn museum, which was inspired by numerous directors, curators and scholars who have invested decades of study in African Art. Serendipity merged initial meetings between Guido Gryseels, the director of RMCA, and David Sammons, dean of the University of Florida International Center. Perhaps yards away on the same campus, Cooksey and colleague Dr. Robin Poynor, professor of art history, were in the midst of ongoing discussions to develop an exhibition dedicated solely to the Kongo. All great minds eventually met and Harn Museum director Rebecca Nagy unequivocally endorsed the genesis of Kongo Across the Waters.
According to Dr. Poynor, who has authored numerous books on African art, the Kongo kingdom was chosen for the exhibit for a number of reasons. “They have exquisite art, they were one of the early kingdoms known throughout Europe, and the Kongos were involved in the early slave trade, so there were a great number of Kongos who not only sent slaves out but came as slaves,” Poynor explained. “An underlying foundation for African-American culture is Kongo culture.”
The task of compiling a “visitor-friendly” exhibition void of complexity could have been daunting for the team; however, innovation, accurate timelines and a commitment to dignify and uphold the ancestral heritage, philosophies and preserved Kongo identity served as formidable guidelines for success.
Thematically divided into five distinct sections, Kongo Across the Waters begins with 1598 European maps of the “Congo” depicting the Kongo Kingdom as a separately established territory from the town of Mbanza Kongo, located south of the Congo River. The Kongo kingdom was in place prior to European arrival in 1483, but when the kingdom actually began remains debatable.
First and foremost the exhibit is about the Kongo people—their lives, customs, and culture. Kongo nobility and elitism is evidentiary as they exchanged prestigious gifts with Europeans, which illustrates the Kongolese were intellectual and savvy traders who later evolved as artists that recognized their masterpieces were valuable commerce. An array of antiquated wood, copper, brass and metal crucifix symbols and Saint Anthony figures substantiates that Christianity conversion and religious zeal served powerful roles in Kongo culture.
Museum walls painted in earthen-tone hues separate each exhibit section, further complemented by larger than life murals to create a powerful visual aesthetic. While most of the authentic arts and artifacts are on loan from Belgium’s RMCA, Kongo culture travels across the water that brought African-Americans like cargo to the United States in 1619 during the slave trade in a section II segue.
Recent excavations reveal startling archaeology discoveries exposing cultural treasures, ranging from a jeweled rosary with two medals and a conjurer’s cache of stone, pins and quart found in the Charles Carroll house excavation in Annapolis, Maryland. The latter is believed to be the personal hidings of an enslaved woman. Colonoware pottery from the Dean Hall plantation in South Carolina and Ft. Mose in Florida are also on view.
Culture and custom merge in sections III and IV, as the exhibit visually crosses the water and returns to the Kongo kingdom, where rites and rituals are explored in the examples of iron and vegetal fiber double bell, ngongi, and wood carved whistles. A Voudou (voodoo) Medicine Packet from the History Miami Museum resonates the role of early Haitian spiritual beliefs.
Hanging displays of massive raffia mats and stunning textiles used to lay upon graves and numerous “anthropomorphic power figures” known as nkisi reinforce that Africans believed in the preservation of life through healing, embraced high regard for the existence of spirits, and gave eternal honor to the dead.
Remarkable is the selection of contemporary art submitted by a culturally diverse quintet of artists, which brings the five-century Kongo journey millennium-forward. Among the standouts is a mixed-media collage by Radcliffe Bailey. The framed “medicine cabinet” traces his own identity and roots, including his DNA sequence to slave ships, Marcus Garvey and more.
An interactive music platform includes sound sticks and earphones that allow patrons to experience five separate tracks of traditional Kongo music, while a commissioned video produced by a Louisiana trio (Royce Osborn, Freddie Evans Williams and Luther Gray) combines the folkways and emerged customs from gospel to hambone to juba and jazz.
From coiled baskets and bowls, pots topped by human figures, face vessels from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and an extraordinaire 20th century memory jar, Kongo Across the Waters gives honor to a delicately restored and preserved cultural heritage African-Americans perhaps unknowingly retain to this day.
Kongo Across the Waters will remain in Gainesville, Florida until March 23, 2014.
Bernard, Shirley, and Khalil Kinsey are three of my favorite public families (and people) next to that of President Barack and Michelle and those two stylish daughters!
The cultural exhibit, “The Kinsey Collection” is an American Wonderthat Walt Disney World Resorts has extended at EPCOT Center through 2018. It’s a “must see” on you summer vacation visits to Orlando and/or Disney World!
I am proud to have viewed this extraordinaire collection numerous times and will continue to give them “ink” for as long as the opportunity exists.
Embedded below are URL links to my archived features: