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 previously 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, Equal Voice, Miami Times,Mosaic Literary Magazine, Florida Times-Union, Florida Courier, Philadelphia Stories, Daytona Times, Tallahassee Women’s Magazine and others.

Journalism fellowships awarded include the New America Media Four Freedoms Fund Fellowship (2013); Henry Frank Guggenheim Fellowship (2015); Marguerite Casey Equal Voice Fellowship (2015); Journalists in Aging Fellows Program (2016). Continue Reading »

Leave a comment

Soul Food – Healthy & Alternative Preparations



Filed under FOOD, METRO

Some African-Americans have adapted new approaches to cooking, which leads to better health and living longer.

Editor’s note: This is the second installment on the legacy of soul food. Part 1 appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of the Florida Courier.


Soul food has taken center stage in the millennium as both a Southern indulgence and palate pleaser.

Restaurants boasting the original recipe of elderly relatives have opened throughout the Southeastern region of the country, and the ubiquitous food genre is even the focus of the reality television show, “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s.”

According to Adrian Miller, author of the James Beard award-winning book, “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time,’’ “Traditional (soul food) places are having a generational moment. The people who started them are retiring, or dying off, but the kids in the family and other employees are still interested in carrying on the business.”

Soul or Southern?
Originated by the resourcefulness of enslaved African-Americans, soul food remains controversial for its heritage and its high sodium, fried foods and bountiful sugar content, which contributes to debilitating diseases. Included are hypertension, diagnosed arthritis and diabetes, all types of heart disease, and cancer.

“Southern food is the mother cuisine that soul food claims heritage to, but soul food is distinct unto itself,” Miller said. “Part of the confusion surrounding soul food is that it stems from cultural stiff-arming that occurred in the 1960s.

Continue Reading »

Leave a comment

Soul Food: cultural lifestyle or disease trap?







Soul Food ─ Cultural Lifestyle or Disease Trap?

Soul Food ─ Cultural Lifestyle or Disease Trap?

 Florida Courier/New America Media , News Feature, Penny Dickerson, Posted: Feb 21, 2017

Photo: Olean McCaskill in her celebrated soul-food eatery, Olean’s.TALLAHASSEE, Fla.–The roots of soul food run deep within the annals of African American living. The South reigns as king of soul food cuisine. Its origins can be traced back to slavery when plantation owners allowed enslaved Africans to cook and eat only what known as the hog’s undesirable leftovers, the ears, feet, tail, stomach and the intestinal tract known as chitterlings or in the Southern vernacular, simply “chitlins.”

African Americans exhibited resourcefulness and took what was deemed scraps – along with plants native to or domesticated in West Africa, such as okra, yams, black-eyed peas and rice – and created a menu of delicacies that would become soul food staples.

Pork parts were cooked down for hours and seasoned with salt, onion and garlic. Chicken and fish were deep fried in vegetable oil, and collard-green leaves as big as elephant ears were cleaned, cut and seasoned with smoked meats. Yams were candied with generous amounts of brown sugar and butter, while macaroni and cheese was prepared with abundant portions of eggs and butter.

The Cooking Gene

“When, in the history of humankind, has an enslaved people revolutionized how the people who enslaved them ate, drank, believed the way Africans did in America,” ask culinary historian Michael W. Twitty?

Twitty is the author of the forthcoming book, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, his memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture. It traces his ancestry through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom.

For all of its delectable glory, though, eating soul food comes with a price. The sodium, sugar, and fat in traditional dishes are also the catalysts for debilitating diseases. Many African American elders do not enjoy their golden years because of ailments caused by poor eating. Some, especially black men, never reach the age 60.

According to the U.S. Administration on Community Living, [http://tinyurl.com/hjg8ole] which includes the Administration on Aging, older people have at least one chronic illness and many have multiple conditions. Some of the most frequently occurring conditions among African Americans age 65 or older are: hypertension (85 percent); diagnosed arthritis (51 percent); all types of heart disease (27 percent); diagnosed diabetes (39 percent); and cancer (17 percent).

Oxtails and Chitlins

In Tallahassee, soul food aficionados can find Olean’s, a 22-year community legacy that is owned and operated by its petite namesake, Olean McCaskill, and her husband Johnny. A quaint establishment with just 10 tables and brick walls covered with autographed photos of both famous patrons and everyday customers looking for a home cooked meal.

If long lines are a sign, McCaskill, 66, is pleasing a whole lot of folks with diverse southern offerings of southern. From oxtails and chitlins on Wednesday and Thursdays, Olean’s also offers an array of sides including black-eyed peas, cabbage, green beans and her specialty — collard greens.

“I season my collards with bacon,” said McCaskill. “I used to use ham hocks and learned that from my mama and my grandmama, but over time I just started using bacon cause it made them taste better. And you know you have to pour a little of that good ‘ole grease in there too,” she mused.

Older customers are regulars at Olean’s, as well as college students from neighboring Florida A&M University. They all know the specials say McCaskill. Her Black History Month special includes fried chicken (leg and thigh), a choice of two sides, corn muffin, and a 16 oz. fountain soda for $5.99. No substitutions!

Mindful of the health pitfalls associated with southern cooking, McCaskill notes that she cooks a case of chicken per week, baking some, but frying most. McCaskill says she puts no meat in her vegetables to accommodate customers who do not eat pork

”If you eat something you know you are not supposed to then you know tomorrow and the next day–and the next day you’re going to have to do something different,” McCaskill advised. “I cook to make people feel loved and happy, and if it’s good, it makes them feel good,” she added.

McCaskill said she eats at home whatever she cooks at Olean’s. “I don’t go home to do anything. I go home to sit down,” McCaskill quipped and noted that neither she nor Johnny has had any health problems. She praises the Lord for that.

Research Reveals the—Yum– Risks

Some active seniors like McCaskill boast no debilitating ailments. However, other aging African Americans are not as lucky. AARP reported that University of Alabama researchers identified why: all that fried chicken, bacon, ham, pies and sweet tea.

The researchers, who presented their results at a 2013 International Stroke Conference, found that those who ate typical Southern food six times a week had a 41 percent increased risk of stroke over those who indulged only once a month.

Participants in the same study who ate a very non-Southern diet also had a lower risk of stroke. People whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish (but not fried fish) had a 29 percent lower stroke risk.

Lead researcher Suzanne Judd, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at the university, said the study is the first large-scale effort to look at stroke and the typical Southern diet. The high amount of salt in deep-fried food raises blood pressure, a known stroke risk factor, Judd said. And sweetened drinks can contribute to diabetes.

Willie James Cousar says he was “raised on the hog.” The Jacksonville native, age 68, is a Vietnam veteran whose mother birthed 14 children: seven boys and seven girls. Money was scarce, meals were stretched, and pork was plentiful. The children never complained.

“We ate the food that white folks didn’t want, said Cousar, who has been an avid fisherman since age 14, and a proficient hunter who can kill, skin, and grill any raccoon. “I caught fresh fish that we would eat and it was always fried,” he added.

Following his honorable Air Force discharge in 1972, Cousar returned to Florida. He was gainfully employed, but every day he drank a fifth of gin and a copious amount of Schlitz Malt Liquor. While his drinking days ceased in 1998, he continued to drink sodas and devoured sweets, including his homemade pound cake and special-recipe cookies.

“A recent visit to the doctor really alarmed me,” Cousar said. “My glucose levels were elevated and I was overweight. I stand 5’11” and have weighed as much as 225 pounds, so I’ve stopped drinking soda, stopped eating fried chicken and fried pork chops and cut back on portions. I also try not to eat after 7 p.m. unless it’s something light like a salad.”

Diabetes and Strokes

The federal Administration on Aging reports that in 2014, there were 46.2 million Americans 65 and older and 6.2 million aged 85-plus. African Americans made up nine percent of the older population, and by 2060, the percentage of black seniors is projected to grow to 12 percent.

And according to WebMD:

Diabetes is 60 percent more common in black Americans than in whites. Blacks are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a limb amputation and up to 5.6 times more apt to suffer kidney disease than other people with diabetes.

• Strokes kill four times more blacks Americans ages 35-54 than whites. Blacks have nearly twice the first-time stroke risk of whites.

Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life — and with much higher blood pressure levels — than whites. About four African Americans in 10 ages 20 and older have high blood pressure.

Cancer treatment is equally successful for all races. Yet black men have a 40 percent higher cancer death rate than white men. African American women have a 20 percent higher cancer death rate than white women.

Cousar, a divorced father of three, currently visits the gym every day with his companion, Annie Fason. He currently weighs 200 pounds, and if he continues his 90-hour a week fitness regime, he’ll reach his goal weight of 180 pounds.

“I have to check my glucose every day,” said Cousar. “My work at BAE Systems — a ship building and repair company — is very physical, but I’m not trying to body build. I mostly do cardio on the treadmill and stationary cycles. I just want to be in good shape and live long.”

Penny Dickerson wrote this article for the Florida Courier supported by a journalism fellowship from New America Media, the Gerontological Society of America and AARP. Also, read “Eat, Pray, Gain–Black Church Meals May Serve Fellowship With Obesity,” 

Continue Reading »

Leave a comment

Am I supposed to be a racist (now)?

The world around me feels loud. It’s voluminous and lathered with election minutiae along with alternate facts followed by protests and marches by women whose roar and righteousness was recently heard worldwide. I’m down. I would have marched. I would have joined the masses and pieced together an eighth-grade poster board sign that spoke to the immeasurable value of my uterus or my 1st Amendment right to be in the midst of mayhem. But, I didn’t. Instead, I was on Jeckyll Island, Florida cheering on my granddaughter Journey who is a proud member of the “Dynamic Xplosion” cheer squad.

Yes, she is four-years-old with zero aspirations to ever become a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, but this level of cheerleading (at her young age) teaches Journey to be pro-girl; it’s discipline-centered and respect-driven; it’s fun and it’s community.  This was the march of me and my girls on Saturday while the rest of our gender flooded hi-ways and bridges and mid-town arteries. Continue Reading »

Leave a comment

New Lens on Aging






florida courier



‘New Lens on Aging’

Filed under HEALTH, METRO

Scholars shine light on Blacks and aging during annual scientific meeting of the Gerontological Society of America


Little Freddie King is a 76-year-old Blues master and New Orleans icon whose performance range includes appearing in Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video and portrayal on the 2015 poster for the French Quarter Festival.

Little Freddie King is a New Orleans Blues legend. He’s a self-taught guitar player who has always used his thumb versus a pick. It allows him to feel the music better. King appeared alert, spry and possessed the mental facility to fully engage a standing room only audience as he told the story of how he hopped a train from Mississippi to New Orleans when he was merely 14 years old. “The Big Easy” has been his home since.

King is now 76 and lives as a statistical example of aging elders who served as the focus of study at the 2016 annual scientific meeting of the Gerontological Society held Nov. 16-20 in New Orleans. A field of study often confused with geriatrics, gerontology defined is the scientific study of old age, the process of aging, and the particular problems of old people. Continue Reading »

Leave a comment



Florida Courier writer Penny Dickerson, a cancer survivor, reflects on her personal challenges and blessings during this year’s holiday season.

The Florida Courier

Before cancer and after cancer. Here’s a formal portrait (in classy black and white) and a selfie from my hospital bed. (Portrait by GREGORY McKINNON)

Cancer and Christmas share a confounding irony for me this year.

On Dec. 1, I was admitted to Shands Hospital in Jacksonville for a CT-guided kidney biopsy. One month prior, a definitely solid renal mass was found resting leisurely on the outer pole of my right kidney.

The remainder of the month, I’ve endured holiday grandeur, including “Jingle Bells” carols; and pine and spruce trees lit with bright, multicolored bulbs and layered with elaborately wrapped presents topped by ornate bows.

It’s the season to be jolly – if you don’t have to deal with a health woe like cancer.

Instead of cheerfully speaking catch phrases like “joy,” “peace,” and “hope,” my seasonal vocabulary sounds like it’s taken from pages of the “Physicians’ Desk Reference:” “peripherally inserted catheters,” “renal cell carcinoma,” “cryoablation,” and “cancer surveillance.” Continue Reading »

Leave a comment

Penny Dickerson awarded GSA Fellowship 2017

For Immediate Release
November 11, 2016
Contact: Todd Kluss
(202) 587-2839
America’s Top Reporters on Aging Chosen for Fellowship ProgramThe Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and New America Media (NAM) have selected 16 distinguished reporters for the next cohort of the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program, now in its seventh year. They represent a wide range of general audience, ethnic, and senior media outlets, including several public radio affiliates, daily newspapers, and national publications.

The fellows will convene during GSA’s Annual Scientific Meeting — scheduled for November 16 to 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana — and utilize the more than 450 presentation sessions and 4,000 expert attendees to develop a major aging-focused story or series. These proposed projects, to be published in 2017, will span such concerns as elder isolation, homeless seniors, the digital future, and aging in ethnic populations.

“The GSA meeting presents a comprehensive look at aging, and our new fellows will serve a vital role by cultivating public awareness of what it means to age in America,” said Karen Tracy, GSA’s Senior Director of Strategic Alliances and Communications. “We provide a unique venue to help them understand everything from the latest discoveries in the health sciences to the impact of the 2016 elections on older adults.”

The fellows program is supported by funding from The Silver Century Foundation, AARP, The Commonwealth Fund, The Retirement Research Foundation, and The John A. Hartford Foundation.

“Our fellowship collaboration with GSA has been essential for educating reporters and the increasingly diverse communities they inform about the challenges of growing older.” said NAM Executive Director Sandy Close. “The wide range of topics this year and the depth of the proposals shows that journalists are grasping the impact of these issues in every community.”

In New Orleans, the fellows also will report on new developments in aging and participate in a day-long workshop, where experts will discuss the latest research and provide insight on key issues facing Americans as they age. Continuing fellowship grants also are being provided to allow nine previous fellows to participate in the meeting. A continuously updated list of stories generated by the program’s more than 100 alumni is available at www.geron.org/journalistfellows.

The program is co-directed by Todd Kluss, MA, GSA’s senior manager of communications, and Paul Kleyman, senior editor of NAM’s ethnic elders newsbeat. Kleyman also is the founder and national coordinator of the Journalists Network on Generations, which includes more than 1,000 writers on aging.

The new fellows:

Francisco Castro (La Opinión)
Project: Varied series on the daily struggles of food and rent for older Latinos, elder abuse among Latinos in home care facilities, and “old love.”

Lois M. Collins (Deseret News, Salt Lake City)
Project: Redefining “community” in old age.

Alice Daniel (KQED Public Radio’s “California Report,” San Francisco)
Project: Mental illness in older Hmong and Lao refugees.

Merdis “Penny” Dickerson (Florida Courier/Daytona Times)
Project: Hunger among older African Americans.

Neil Gonzales (Philippine News)
Project: Barriers to and opportunities for healthy aging, particularly within the Filipino and Asian American community.

Leoneda Inge (North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC)
Project: The “reverse migration” of black retirees to North Carolina.

Erica Manfred (SeniorPlanet.org)
Project: Accessible hearing-loss technology.

Deborah Martinez (KSFR-FM, Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Project: Varied series on navigating Social Security and Medicare, the challenges and opportunities facing New Mexico’s retirees, and recent lawsuits brought against two Santa Fe elder care facilities.

Sister Charlene Muhammad (Los Angeles Sentinel/L.A. Watts Times Weekender)
Project: Intersection of homelessness, dementia, and substance abuse.

Elizabeth Payne (Ottawa Citizen)
Project: A series of articles related to falls, including prevention, causes, costs, and consequences.

Katy Read (Star Tribune, Minneapolis)
Project: Individual and community initiatives to address the dangers of isolation and loneliness.

Randy Rieland (Smithsonian)
Project: Use of artificial intelligence to combat social isolation.

Michael O. Schroeder (U.S. News & World Report)
Project: Financial exploitation of older adults.

Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs (Alldigitocracy.org)
Project: Ageism in the media and its coverage of older adults from minority communities.

Chandra Thomas Whitfield (NBCBLK/NBCNews.com)
Project: Challenges faced by LGBT older adults of color.

Ke “April” Xu (Sing Tao Daily)
Project: Scams haunting Chinese older adults in the U.S.


The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) is the nation’s oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society, and an educational branch, theAssociation for Gerontology in Higher Education.

New America Media (NAM) is the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate for over 3,000 ethnic news organizations. Nearly 60 million ethnic adults connect to each other, to home countries, and to America through ethnic media, the fastest growing sector of American journalism. Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, NAM is headquartered in California with editors in New York and Washington, DC.

Follow GSA on Twitter and Facebook!








%d bloggers like this: