Penny Dickerson is an independent journalist with a passion for cool people, extraordinary places, and good sushi. Effective Jan. 2, 2020, she is senior staff writer for The Miami Times
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. Continue Reading »
Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin of The Potter’s House International Ministries in Jacksonville continues to serve parishioners and patrons through the church’s thriving mall and academy.
BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE COURIER
Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin keeps it real. He is the founder and senior pastor of The Potter’s House International Ministries and approaches evangelism with a Bible-based, down-to-earth approach.
A people-person who welcomes smart phones in the pulpit to capture baptismal moments, he is an ad-hoc comic with a servant’s heart. Moreover, he is an agent of change focused on economic empowerment – a multimillion-dollar community epicenter is his testament. Continue Reading »
Query any Florida resident on the state’s most celebrated neighborhoods and Lake Mary — the City of Lakes — will roll off tongues with the ease of Southern living that locals have enjoyed since its inception. The city became an incorporated municipality in 1973 and has bloomed beautifully. It was rated No. 4 in Florida as the “Best Place” to live by Money Magazine in 2007 and ranked as one of the best towns for families by Family Circle magazine in 2014.
Sound prestigious? Tanya and Allan Coffin thought so.
Last year, the British couple left London and relocated to Lake Mary to stake claim on the American dream. Eight months ago they opened Royals English Tea Room, known for its exotic dried tea, crumpets and scones shipped from abroad, and Her Majesty’s Favorite, a strawberries-and-cream dessert.
“We used to visit Orlando for holiday and asked about the area,” says Tanya Coffin. “While dining, a server told us about Lake Mary and described it as heaven on earth. After a few visits, we knew this was the place for us.” The couple were impressed by the town’s cleanliness and inviting people. And then, they found the ideal business location on Country Club Road.
Versini’s Italian Ice was opened in 2010 by a Portuguese family who also found the neighborhood and real estate ideal. “Lake Mary has great people and my business has thrived,” says owner F. Versini, whose sons attended Lake Mary High School, chosen by Versini because it boasts one of Florida’s highest graduation rates. A place like Versini’s, serving gelati and ice cream topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, was a great addition to the neighborhood.
Over the years, Lake Mary has emerged as the destination of choice for a global mosaic of ethnicities, working-class residents, entrepreneurs and native townsfolk. Together, they harmoniously mesh as a laid-back, family-oriented community that is the hallmark of Lake Mary. Impressive commentary for a legacy that began as secluded swampland infinitely surrounded by sabal palms and mammoth oaks swathed in Spanish moss.
According to archived legend, Lake Mary is the town that Frank Evans built, shaping it from an old-fashioned cliché into a prosperous civilization. Dusty dirt trails were paved into roads for transportation on Schwinn bicycles long before bikes with banana seats were cool. The paths were shared with the exhaust and raucous horn honks of Ford Model-T automobiles.
Homes were humble and the lone general store likely sold crisp pickles in barrels. A pharmacy, railroad station, one-room schoolhouse and civic government emerged along with cultural offerings that included an orchestra.
Gas was one gallon for a quarter, and a nickel bought a bumpy train ride. A single dime admitted Charlie Chaplin fans into cinemas for nine cents, and the spare penny was enough for a sack of salty popcorn.
Sound nostalgic? Sure, but that was so yesterday. Take a quantum leap into the 21st century.
An urban infrastructure created the heavily traveled Interstate-4 exchange that exits directly onto Lake Mary Boulevard. The thriving, wide four-lane thoroughfare winds through miles of breathtaking, green scenery with blades of grass that vertically salute the sun. And save for the steady hum of engines in the luxury cars that steadily zoom by, it can be surprisingly quiet.
One stretch of the boulevard is happily saturated with retail and marquee signs that beckon middle-class and affluent residents to shop and solicit services such as cosmetic dentistry and exclusive real estate.
Alcoves at outdoor plazas are complemented by eateries that boast free Wi-Fi and tempt insatiable appetites. Among the offerings are Keller’s smoked barbe-cue ribs and menus featuring grilled burgers topped with crumbled bleu cheese and loaded with sautéed onions and mushrooms.
Sound enticing? Indeed, and most locals would concur.
Lake Mary is both a neighborhood and an experience that invites you to start your day with an all-American breakfast at Appleton’s Café — a 30-year tradition where native New Yorker Tricia Rodriguez delivers quick service to some 500 patrons on Saturdays. Omelets are fluffed from cracked eggs and ingredients are chopped daily. African-American “Chef T” will slay your palate with her homemade buttermilk biscuits, and breakfast is served all day, but you’ll want to come for lunch before the chicken salad sells out.
“We love the friendly people, and the portions are worth the price,” says the regular customer Sam Bellamy, a first vice president for USB Financial Services who visits frequently with his wife Krista and their two daughters.
“The girls love the themed holiday decorations and, of course, the pancakes,” he says with a smile that concurs.
Travel the boulevard south and visit the Saturday Farmers Market surrounded by eclectic shops, children playing and groomed pets on leashes. Free Zumba is taught to a Latin beat, and shoppers pick up local honey and gourmet popcorn sold in rainbow flavors including tutti-frutti.
“I started selling family pasta and pickle recipes at the market a year ago following my husband’s stroke,” shares Shelly Mottram, a Sicilian whose Backyard Blends products include jars of various green salsas, including a candied jalapeño version. “We’ve met so many friendly people here and love this market atmosphere.”
From the Lake Mary Heathrow Festival of the Arts to Dexter’s Sunday jazz brunch, the overarching Lake Mary theme is that everyone is welcome, accepted and encouraged to stay.
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.
LeVar Burton speaks exclusively to the Florida Courier in advance of his November appearance at Rollins College in Winter Park.
BY PENNY DICKERSON FLORIDA COURIER
LeVar Burton is best remembered in the archives of American culture for his debut in the 1977 mini-series “Roots.” In his first audition and role, the 19-year-old was cast as Kunta Kinte, the wide-eyed Mandinka warrior who fled slave masters with the speed of a wild gazelle.
Burton’s character not only personified rebellion, he made it look cool. He was a hero who gave Blacks nationwide a license to cheer for their own identity and freedom. Continue Reading »
Meet Dr. Glenn and Kim Strauss, two of the more profoundly spiritually grounded human beings I’ve met to date and the couple whom I’ve anointed “spiritual liaisons” between my journey to Africa, return to the United States and ultimately being residential-planted in North Miami Beach. The latter bookends a brief yet complex labyrinth of transformation that continues to muster “marvel and awe” in my own eyes but not so much for Dr. Glenn and Kim.
You see, they are long term professionals at spiritual counseling and have seen God move in so many miraculous ways in the lives of the fragile, grieving, brokenhearted, wounded, and just tired folks who love God. Many, like myself, are and/or have been missionaries aboard the “Africa Mercy.” Some have spent the vast majority of their adult lives committed to serving abroad and there are others who simply come to their home, formally dubbed: “Tyler Garden Oasis,” for a respite between missions and/or transition back to life with family, friends, and defining what’s next?
The latter is no known, recorded proverb, but it seems appropriate for my inspiration to finally chronicle the Mercy Ships Africa Mercy arrival ceremony in Senegal on August 14, 2019.
The Africa Mercy crew is still hyped, so this is the arrival that keeps on giving!
Many of my supporters, friends, and family are not social media aficionados, so my numerous Facebook and LinkedIn posts have escaped their indulgence.
This experience could not have been made possible without them, so it is appropriate, albeit one week late, that I invite them to enjoy the celebratory arrival ceremony from Penny’s Perspective.
More honest, there’s a second reason for the pursuit that reveals my inability to just walk away from a work day: I am being held hostage in a cabin by two crutches and a busted up foot! Wouldn’t you blog?
Following a meeting onboard the Africa Mercy with the communications team, vice-president of global branding Jitze Kramer, global strategist Meg Newell, and global brand campaign director Ruben Plomp, I simply cannot stop thinking about SEO and a writer’s prescribed word count. To challenge myself, this composition is a test. If it fails, at least its at the expense of my own content! Continue Reading »