Penny Dickerson is former senior staff writer and managing editor of The Miami Times currently working as an independent journalist and consultant.. She has 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 »
The Clara White Mission’s 26th Annual “Feed the City” pre-Thanksgiving luncheon was held November 20, 2021 and proved to be a successful and festive community event that aligned with the non-profit organization’s programmatic measures to address the needs of Jacksonville’s vulnerable populations.
Low-income and homeless citizens throughout the Jacksonville community from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds spent an afternoon enjoying an outdoor dining experience. More than 75 volunteers served meals to 400 in need and offered free merchandise that ran the gamut of toiletry packets to bibles and clothing items. First Coast Barber Academy was on hand to offer free hair cuts, an act of service that allowed many clients to experience dignity and a strong sense of self-pride.
“I am proud of the Clara White Mission’s continued ability to provide a special meal for our client’s year-a-round but especially during the month of November when gratefulness and thanks are at a height,” said Ju’Coby Pittman, President/CEO of the Clara White Mission.
“This is a time when relatives and friends gather together, and we want everyone to feel like they are a valued part of the Clara White Mission family and Jacksonville community,” added Pittman.
On November 8, 2021, the Clara White Mission honored the 145th birthday of its founder Dr. Eartha M.M. White. As the organization celebrates its 119th year of service, “Feed the City” is one of many events that would make Dr. White beam with pride.
Amid breezy wind and a bright sun, music and entertainment added the perfect ambiance to “Feed the City” which ushers in December and a need for more services to assist clients throughout the holiday season. The Clara White Mission seeks to recognize vulnerable populations throughout the year and beyond.
Solicitations from the faith-based community, businesses and civic organizations are requested to help support a food drive. The general public is encouraged to please drop off non-perishable food donations at the Clara White Mission during a drive that began Monday, November 22nd and will continue through Tuesday, December 22, 2021. Pittman and the staff of the Clara White Mission thanks you in advance for your support.
The bright future of Bryce Gowdy was darkened by his own demise on Monday, Dec.30.
A 17-year-old young man of promise, Bryce committed suicide and left behind remnants of a life wrought with mental health challenges, a family in financial disarray and homelessness.
In the aftermath, reports flourished that a Black male laid down his burdens and body on a Florida railroad track and was struck by an oncoming train. A national outcry reverberated as Bryce was one child too many claimed by systemic neglect.
The latter serves as a backdrop to Bryce being a celebrated wide-receiver poised to join Georgia Tech as a lauded recruit. Now, he will not be a Yellow Jacket at Billy Dodd stadium this season, another South Florida mother mourns a dead son and a community is charged with providing preventive measures to save more youth.
Bryce completed classes early at Deerfield Beach High School to join his future collegiate team. Georgia Tech offered the following statement on the football program’s website:
“Our entire Georgia Tech football family is devastated by the news of Bryce’s passing,” Georgia Tech football head coach Geoff Collins said. “Bryce was an outstanding young man with a very bright future. He was a great friend to many, including many of our current and incoming team members. On behalf of our coaches, players, staff and families, we offer our deepest condolences to Bryce’s mother, Shibbon, and his brothers, Brisai and Brayden, as well as the rest of his family members, his teammates and coaches at Deerfield Beach High School, and his many friends. Bryce and his family will always be a part of the Georgia Tech football family.”
Broward County Public School district is the sixth-largest school in the nation and the second-largest in the state of Florida enrolling nearly 270,000 students. Bryce was one of those thousands and a definitive Black life who mattered. His mother referred to him as a “professed momma’s boy” and sentiments shared by friends on social media refer to him as “handsome with a contagious smile.”
Superintendent Robert W. Runcie and chair of the school board chair Donna Korn released a statement of their own Jan. 2 , days after Bryce’s death. It echoed reports that “Bryce was an outstanding individual in every way – on the football field and in life…”
Deerfield High language arts teacher Tonyshia Fletcher posted the following
It has been difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that you’re gone. I keep replaying our last moments in my mind & it literally breaks my heart. Had I known that it would have been our last conversation I would’ve stayed and talked with you longer.”
A candlelight vigil was held at Deerfield Thursday, Jan. 02. A funeral is scheduled to take place in the school auditorium, Saturday, Jan. 11.
Bryce attended school as a homeless student who intermittently lived in a car with his mother and two siblings. The night of his death they checked into a local hotel. The space and time between their socioeconomic circumstances cast a shadow on whether Broward County Public Schools offered the appropriate services to adequately support Bryce.
Carole Mitchell, district homeless education liaison coordinator for the Homeless Education Assistance Resource Team (HEART), told The Miami Times that the program knew of Bryce.
“Bryce had been identified and registered in our system,” said Mitchell, who deferred further comment to her supervisor, Dr. Laurel Thompson.
HEART SHOULD HELP
Responsibility for HEART includes upholding the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 2001, which was amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Federal laws protect the educational rights of students (PreK-12) who have lost housing and are living in transition, a page on Broward School system’s web site reads. “The ultimate goal is to remove barriers that might prevent students experiencing homelessness from enrolling, attending and succeeding in school.”
HEART can provide transportation coordination for students to remain in the last school they attended, access to school supplies and uniform items, free school meals, referrals school social work services, family counseling, medical, dental and mental health referrals.
Family counseling and mental health referrals may have been the most important components to the resource team reaching its “ultimate goal” and removing barriers for Bryce and his mother, Shibbon Winelle. It is unclear if they received such services.
Winelle reportedly said that both she and Bryce were experiencing socioeconomic distress and suffered “demons” and Bryce displayed irrational behavior in his final days. “He was talking about signs and symbols,” said Winelle.
“I been begging for help for months,” said Winelle who refers to herself on social media as “Love Win,” a mother musician and mystic. She is an orchestral level string bassist who was once gainfully employed.
Details of her family’s downward spiral are blurred, and the timeline preceding Bryce’s death is ominous beginning with Winelle’s Facebook posts:
Dec. 29 at 10:49 p.m.:
“This birthday I thought I had everything. My handsome Suns were happy and healthy and my parents and family were a strong part of my life, I had a corporate job paying $50K a year with benefits, great girlfriends, a happy 2 and a half year situationship with a man. This was only 3 birthdays ago…”
The post then morphs to a bleak status:
This year I spent my birthday in my car with my Suns. My youngest is with friends, while my oldest stayed by my side all day and still by my side now tonight while we wait for my middle sun to get off work. No time with friends because no money or gas to waste, no parents or family because a year and a half earlier I addressed childhood traumas that caused a rift between us…”
Winelle reportedly sent Bryce to the car to fetch her favorite blanket. Barefoot and carrying no wallet, he never returned.
By 4 a.m. Monday, Dec. 30, his body was found near train tracks. Tuesday, Broward County medical examiners ruled his death a suicide.
MENTAL HEALTH SOCIAL STIGMA
Kisha N. Bazelais is a psychologist at the Miami-Dade Counseling Center where she is one of a few African-Americans on staff. She encourages Blacks to seek help when their lives start to unravel.
“Barriers to African-Americans receiving counseling exist because of [social] stigmas, even when sought in a private setting,” she said. “I also manage my own private practice, and 70% of my client-base are people of color. Having the same ethnicity as your mental health professional is often what gets people in the door. People relate better to someone who they believe knows their culture, looks like them, and understands systemic issues.”
The example of Winelle’s family illustrates numerous Black families and students who suffer in silence. All do not end in death. More can be saved.
Rosalind Osgood is a Broward County school board member who is taking steps toward bridging communication between students and parents.
“A conversation has to take place in the African-American community. We’re silent about mental health, and it’s beginning to drastically impact our children,” said Osgood. “As a school board member and a community leader, I have to do something to have this conversation start from a community perspective…the adults in the community don’t understand.”
A “Black History Mental Health Symposium” sponsored by The Links, Fort Lauderdale chapter and Broward College will take place at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Old Dillard Museum, 1019 NW Fourth St., Fort Lauderdale. Latasha Russell, a clinical psychologist, will moderate.
“I have several kids who will be on the panel. A couple have attempted suicide,” said Osgood. “This is gonna begin the discussion.”
Bryce represented an unfortunate suicide trend.
According to data published in the Journal of Pediatrics October 2019, suicide attempts among Black children and teenagers have increased by 73% since 1991. Further, suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers in the U.S., but over the period studied, suicide attempts decreased among teens in every ethnic group except for Black Americans.
“This group always reported much higher rates of suicide attempts than any other group except for Native American Alaskan Indians since 1991,” said Sean Joe, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis and one of the study’s authors.
“So now we’re seeing a stronger, significant increase – not only for males but also for Black females … the rise in suicide attempts among Black adolescents is marked by higher levels of hopelessness, increased stigma around mental health issues and lack of access to mental health care,” said Joe.
Pere Frances-Betsch, great-great granddaughter of American Beach Founder A.L. Lewis, addresses Nassau County commissioners at the Nov. 18 meeting
Activist Ron Starling chained himself to a gazebo at Burney Park in protest of an ordinance that could ban beach camping at American Beach.
The layout above is a pre-publication PDF prior to final cutlines. Please follow the Florida Courier for digital updates at https://flcourier.com.
More Than A Beach Fight
By Penny Dickerson/Florida Courier
Protest, petitions and the imagery of one man shackled in chains led a two-week outcry by African Americans in Northeast Florida to preserve American Beach in Nassau, County.
The 40-acre beach was founded in 1935 by A.L. Lewis, Florida’s first Black millionaire who provided opportunities for employees of his Afro-American Life Insurance Company to own beachfront property and experience “Recreation and Relaxation Without Humiliation.”
An archived photo image of American Beach in the late 1930’s highlights the origins of beach camping pre-segregation.
Overnight ban opposed
Following widespread media coverage, the recent activity culminated with a Nov. 18 meeting of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners where key representatives showed up to be heard.
At stake is an ordinance that would eradicate an 85-year tradition of overnight beach camping, an American Beach activity indulged by many African Americans who still covet local memories of social grandeur when segregation prohibited Blacks from swimming in the same Atlantic Ocean that brought them to American soil. Continue Reading »
Andrew Gillum, Patrick Cannon, Ray Nagin, Kwame Kilpatrick, Marion Barry, Richard Thomas and Catherine Pugh all share a common title: Black American mayors. They share a common fate, too. They have either been accused of criminal behavior; been previously or is currently being investigated; or worse, been imprisoned in connection with the job of leading a municipality. At a minimum, when the government comes sniffing, it leaves reputations in tatters.
This is but a shortlist of Black power symbols, either toppled or shaken during their meteoric rise, while they tried to transform underserved communities.
In the book, “African-American Mayors: Race, Politics, and the African-American City,” political historians David R. Colburn and Jeffrey S. Adler aptly illustrate their plight:
“Black mayors assumed office during economic downturns and confronted the intractable problems of decaying inner cities, while flight, a dwindling tax base, violent crime, and diminishing federal support for social programs. Many encountered hostility from their own parties, city councils, and police departments; others worked against long-established power structures dominated by local business owners or politicians. Still others, while trying to respond to multiple demands from a diverse constituency, were viewed as traitors by Blacks expecting special attention from a leader of their own race.”
Black mayors demonstrate how the same circumstances that set the stage for the victories can exaggerate the obstacles and accusations. For Florida, bitter is the memory of not only the defeat of former Tallahassee mayor, Gillum, but also a mounting probe that some say was a direct cause.
In January, Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause to investigate Gillum, who allegedly received gifts valued over $100 while in office in the form of a stay at a Costa Rica Villa, a Broadway ticket and a boat ride. Ethics commission advocate Elizabeth Miller recently requested that Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early delay a decision in Gillum’s hearing for five months to accommodate the mayor’s former comrade-turned-Judas, lobbyist Adam Corey, who insists his ill attorney’s presence is essential for him to testify.
Two weeks ago, Early received yet one more motion by Miller to hold the record open until August and defer any judgment.
Gillum is represented by Barry Richard, a prominent Tallahassee attorney who once represented George W. Bush in legal battles over the 2000 presidential election.
“Granting the motion to hold the evidence open until August would render the denial of a continuance meaningless, and [Gillum] would still be forced to wait several months with a cloud hanging over his head,” Richard said.
Dark days for Black mayors
That cloud has become a familiar threat following a wave of Black mayors who have positively transformed American municipalities formerly plagued by violent crime, poor education and quality of life. In ground-breaking elections, these audacious leaders defeated incumbents, most have enjoyed a season as media darlings and some are singled-out as futurists by analysts nationwide.
By all accounts, Black mayors are their own new black until the emergence of a crippling shift — allegations of corruption are lobbied. These charges, which have the dubious commonality of emerging following an FBI presence, run the gamut from ethics misconduct to conflict-of-interest and criminality. Too often, they relegate Black mayors from an illuminated status to being blindsided targets who suffer public disdain. The frequency of their fall has created a historical quandary.
Patrick Cannon is 52 years old and made a quantum leap from mayor of Charlotte to ex-convict. In 2014, he was released from a Federal Corrections Institution in Morgantown where he served half of a 44-month sentence on charges of accepting more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents; two years of supervised release followed. Cannon paid a $10,000 fine and $50,000 in restitution, and resides in suburban Charlotte where he hosts a community affairs radio program.
Additionally, he is a corporate and skilled labor executive and a marketing and business development consultant. There is buzz of a political comeback. Cannon may run for one of the four at-large council seats, which many believe is a precursor to a congressional bid in 2020. (Filings are July 5 – 19; election Nov. 5). Cannon first won a council seat in 2011 prior to being elected mayor.
In 2013, Cannon was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. Five months into his term, he was arrested and charged with accepting more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen seeking city contracts. Cannon served half of a 44-month sentence.
Nagin, former New Orleans mayor, was convicted in 2014 on 20 counts of wire fraud, bribery and money laundering related to Hurricane Katrina. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Former mayor of Detroit, Kilpatrick is serving 28 years in a federal prison for mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering.
And the demise of Capital City Mayor Marion Barry arguably reigns as the most prolific example of a Black mayor who both murdered and resuscitated his own career. Barry was an unwitting part of a 1990 FBI sting. He was videotaped in a hotel room smoking crack cocaine, arrested and subsequently sentenced to six months in federal prison. Upon his 1992 release, Barry was elected to the D.C. city council and re-elected mayor in 1995.
Marvin Dunn, a Black historian, and former city of Miami mayoral candidate, acknowledges that Black politicians are more vulnerable.
“Once you become high profile, you’re subject to investigation. You’re over-policed by media and prosecutors looking for dirt,” he said. “There is a certain amount of targeting going on.”
Data and demographics
Suffice to say that life for the Black mayor “ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up.” This excerpt from Langston Hughes’ iconic poem is an unfortunate fit for a political cohort that simultaneously grows and weakens.
“Black mayors in big cities are already surrounded by criminal activity,” said Dunn, retired chairman, of the Department of Psychology, at Florida International University. “There is a higher propensity for bribes, extortion and black mail – significantly more than in suburban areas. There is greater temptation.”
According to governing.com, a digital platform for “States and Localities,” “In 2000, there were 19 Black mayors in the 50 largest American cities. In 2018, there were seven … .”
“Part of the challenge is many African-Americans have left places … where Black politicians once held significant power,” offered Michael Leo Owens, an Emory University political scientist.
On April 2, the people of Chicago proved political power is still theirs.
Lori Lightfoot was elected the first Black woman mayor. A campaign long-shot, Lightfoot swept all of Chicago’s 50 wards. When she’s sworn in on May 20 as the city’s 56th mayor, will she dodge scrutiny or join the statistical ranks of Black mayors whose triumph historically comes under attack?
Relegate the rising stars
Gillum championed America’s political landscape when he was elected Tallahassee mayor in 2014. He inherited Leon County, a mecca for higher education but the state’s leader in crime according to data and a city where murder reached record highs. Among his intrepid moves, in 2015, Gillum petitioned former Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency that would suspend the “Stand Your Ground” law.
The Miami native lost that battle, but later won a political war: he was elected the 2018 democratic nominee for governor to become Florida’s first Black gubernatorial candidate. Following a dynamic campaign that garnered a razor-thin margin of votes, Gillum conceded to Republican opponent Rick DeSantis. Now, Gillum’s days are shadowed by accusations, juxtaposed against New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s label as one of his “14 Young Democrats to Watch.”
New mayor, same pattern
On April 5, Douglas J. Martino of the New York firm Martino & Weiss, filed a “Motion to Dismiss” charges that likely shouldn’t exist against their client, Mayor Richard Thomas of Mount Vernon, New York.
An excerpt reads: “The mayor is being selectively charged with campaign violations that at worst should have been processed administratively and two counts of filing allegedly false Financial Forms with the City Ethics Board for crimes that not only do not exist … . Moreover, because the Mount Vernon Board of Ethics is illegally constituted, the charges involving required campaign reporting are non-existent and must be dismissed.”
In 2018, Thomas was arraigned on criminal charges as part of a local government corruption probe by the New York State Attorney General’s Office initiated days after Thomas won his 2015 primary. The state inquiry led to local government matters and campaign finance technicalities. Now, he faces charges of third-degree larceny and filing false information with the city’s Board of Ethics. Thomas pled not guilty and was freed without bail.
Thomas catapulted his way onto the political scene in 2015 when he was elected the city’s youngest mayor in Mount Vernon in a landslide victory. He was 33, married with two young children, educated and with his boyish good looks, any political consultant would dub him a constituent magnet.
Qualified for greatness
The City of Hope’s optimistic leader earned both a bachelor’s degree in economics and an executive MBA in finance and leadership from New York University’s prestigious Leonard N. Stern School of Business; he additionally studied at The London School of Economics & Political Science. A reverent think-tank who excels in due diligence, quantitative analysis, branding and marketing, Thomas previously served as executive director for the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and regional director for the New York State governor’s office.
But, despite pristine qualifications that precede political zeal and proven electability, Thomas stands accused of “stealing more than $12,000 from his campaign committee “Friends of Richard Thomas” and then lying about it. He is also accused of failing to report items on his city ethics forms that are not legally required and was indicted for not reporting said items before the deadline to submit the forms. Westchester County Court Judge Barry Warhit will likely set a trial date and hear arguments on the dismissal of counts 7 and 8 on April 19.
A Bevy of bravos
The beauty of the Baltimore Harbor has long remained a backdrop to the city’s poverty, violent crime and burgeoning drug trade. Eliminating the latter three has been an impossibility, but curtailing their dominance is one that Mayor Pugh has tackled both with grace and success.
Pugh has earned a bevy of bravos. She pursued an aggressive agenda to revitalize neighborhoods, create pathways of opportunity for young people and enhance the safety of citizens, while ushering in a new era of community policing and accountability within the Baltimore Police Department.
Circa 2019 — Pugh is on an indefinite leave of absence as mayor of Baltimore due to health. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the state prosecutor to investigate Pugh regarding a conflict of interest stemming from an alleged no-bid book deal with the University of Maryland Medical System valued at $500,000. It is alleged that the university benefited from more than 40 bills sponsored/co-sponsored by Pugh while she served on the board of directors and subsequently purchased copies of Pugh’s self-published “Healthy Holly” books for children, which were then distributed to Baltimore schools and daycare centers. Pugh was paid $500,000 for 100,000 books over the course of five transactions in years 2012 – 2018.
In a statement to the New York Times, state comptroller Peter Franchot stated, “This is a window into the shadowy, seamy side of politics, where powerful insiders self-deal. I haven’t gotten over the shock of it. It’s almost juvenile.” Franchot has called for an independent audit.
Less reported are numerous occasions when Pugh donated free books to neighborhood events. While she has been asked to resign, Pugh does not face charges.
Same treatment for white mayors?
Political corruption is not specific to Blacks. White mayors and politicians have also been subjects of investigations, convicted and jailed. However, disparity reigns, as recent history reveals that the treatment of Black and white mayors is not the same.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, back in the spring of 2017, narrowly escaped federal indictment on corruption charges of pay-to-play. He allegedly used city money to successfully defend himself from various election and government corruption allegations. One of de Blasio’s top campaign donors was convicted, yet the mayor stated the case, “didn’t involve him.” De Blasio has moved forward without recompense of lingering clouds and is courting a 2020 presidential bid.
Thomas of Mount Vernon identifies a disturbing pattern: “The history of attacks on Black mayors is troubling. If you are bold and buck the system to benefit the people, the system strikes back by any means necessary. The pattern and practice suggest that there is a double standard. This is why the next generation of leaders must level up to survive the suppression and seize every incremental opportunity to protect the people.”
A SELECTED GROUP OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS GOT A CHANCE TO BE ENERGIZED TO ACHIEVE THEIR DREAMS DURING A WEEKEND SYMPOSIUM AT WALT DISNEY WORLD.
LAKE BUENA VISTA – The genesis of their dreams are humble: a coal miner’s son from Welch, W. Va., who slept in his car for three years; an intern who drove cross-country in her Volkswagen Rabbit to work for the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico; and a high school dropout who changed the trajectory of film and theme parks with a rough sketch of a mouse.
Respectively, they are now a trifecta of success – daytime Emmy Award-winning comedian and talk show host Steve Harvey; Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter; and film and animation icon Walt Disney, whose eponymous Walt Disney World resort hosted the Disney Dreamers Academy with Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine March 21-24 at Lake Buena Vista.
Harvey has served as a signature host of the program for 12 consecutive years. Applicants responded to essay questions about their personal stories and dreams, and 100 providential students were selected to attend along with a parent or guardian.
Known as “Disney Dreamers,” they each received an all-expenses-paid trip and an opportunity to gather a lifetime of dreams.
TWELVE YEARS A DREAM
Since its 2007 inception, the inclusive program has catapulted the dreams of more than 1,200 students from across the nation by exposing them to a career-discovery journey that inspires them to discover new career opportunities, pursue their dreams, and interact with participating celebrities and motivational speakers.
Steve Harvey inspires students Friday, March 22, 2019, during Disney Dreamers Academy at Epcot in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 12th annual Disney Dreamers Academy, taking place March 21-24, 2019 is a career-inspiration program for distinguished high school students from across the U.S. (Todd Anderson, photographer)
“My hope is these Disney Dreamers realize there are no limits to what they can achieve,” said Steve Harvey. “All the amazing people they had the chance to hear from this weekend had to start somewhere, and I am excited to see where the dreams of these 100 students take them. That is why I enjoy partnering with Disney on this program every year.”
A Miami youth whose life had been paralyzed by poverty and the criminal justice system spoke openly regarding her plight: while stealing food to feed both herself and a 2-year-old sibling, she was charged and arrested for theft. With no income or support system, she was left hopeless and unable to retain legal counsel or sufficiently advocate for herself.