Mercy Ships: Behold! The African Market.

Today I set foot upon African soil for the first time since our Wednesday arrival. SENEGAL, from the port where Mercy Ships is docked, suffers tremendous aesthetic appeal. To exit the port, I trekked through an asphalt jungle and concrete conclave of urban blight that sent two messages: you are definitely not in Kansas anymore, and no, this not the Lion King set. There were no gazelle’s leaping mid-air with grace, nor was there the thundering beat of a djembe that beckoned a funky body bounce. There was no Simba, no Nala, but I did see a forlorn AFRIcat. Continue Reading »

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Reporter’s Next Assignment is in Senegal



Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships volunteer nurse Meggin Tallman is shown with one of her patients in the maxillofacial ward aboard the Africa Mercy.
Mercy Ships


Florida Courier writer Penny Dickerson “must pay to serve” aboard Mercy Ships, an established model followed by volunteer missions.


To support Penny Dickerson’s mission, visit www.gofundme.com/address-africa-i039m-moving-to-senegal


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.”

Mercy Ships
The Africa Mercy is an integral vessel among the Mercy Ships fleet. Florida Courier writer Penny Dickerson will live and work among the 1,200 volunteer crew from 50 nations when it docks in Dakar, Senegal on Aug. 1.


Rosa Whitaker

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.


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.

A detailed budget can be viewed on her GoFundMe page at at www.gofundme.com/address-africa-i039m-moving-tosenegal.

“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.”

“Ulrich” is shown before and after a surgery to straighten his legs. Mercy Ships has offered world-class health care to the forgotten poor for more than 40 years


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!’”


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.


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.

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On Boarding Final Project: “Transformative Themes”

The “Welcome Dinner” hosted by Angie Fadely was my first clue that “Change” was on the horizon for everyone. However, I could not have imagined how significant those changes would be for me. Indeed, God is doing a new thing. Do you not see it?

I got spiritual chills when I saw the pattern of transformative themes that continued to recur throughout my On Boarding experience. It’s amazing how “Transformation” overlapped from Angie, to Dr. Clark, to me, Small Group leader Karen Ransone and finally Camille Bishop. Fittingly, it is the basis of my final project. TRANSFORMATION!
Project Dr. ClarkDr. Andrew Clark sent me into a writing frenzy. I was captivated by his conceptual command and delivery, but moreso by how the “nuggets” offered spoke directly into my life. I’m in charge? I’m RIDICULOUSLY in charge? Who better than me to lead than me? My “Aha Moment” is on the adjacent page, but reads:

“God never asks about our ability or our inability, but about our availability.
God, where am I not being available right now?”

On Boarding has taught me what it means to be available mentally, prayerfully, physically, and spiritually for God!


During the Silent Retreat, I  observed the flight of a dragonfly for close to ten minutes. It busied about with speed, yet exhibited grace and spread its wings while resting on varied blades of grass. Such sightings have remained symbolic in my life, much like Rachel’s sunflowers. While the voice of the Lord always speaks to me during these symbolic sightings, the internet confirmed it.
The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life. 

My small group leader, Karen Ransone added momentum with her July 2, 2019 entry in my journal. She prayed for God to give her scriptures for me and they are:

  1. Change:  “See, I am doing a new thing.” Isaiah 43:19
  2. Transform: “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is. His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
  3. Adaptability: “For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain more.” I Corinthians 9:19               

Project camilleFrom the anointed Camille Bishop, it all came full circle with her World View presentations.

  1. “One of the biggest problems in the world today is that Christians believe they cannot CHANGE.
  2. “We never CHANGE in isolation. We need each other.”
  3. “Christian life is about CHANGING from the inside out.”

It initially saddened me that I would not be traveling to Dakar with my team for their two-week field practice, but God is resourceful.

He is using my writing gift stateside to illuminate SENEGAL and her culture just from a different location. Change advances God’s purpose, so Journalist Penny will travel to Washington, D.C. next week to write a feature on the following Smithsonian National Museum of African Art exhibit and then fly from Dallas to Madrid to Las Palmas, Spain on July 26th to meet Mercy Ships. From there, we all sail to Africa together.

The Wolof concept called “Sanse” is the basis of the groundbreaking exhibit. It means “Dressing up, looking and feeling good.”

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Orlando Signature Magazine: Thornton Park

20160605_183608-1 (1)Quaint downtown Orlando neighborhood Thornton Park offers walking, shopping, dining pleasures

Thorton Park: The Soul of Downtown

By Penny Dickerson

Thornton Park is one of downtown Orlando’s quintessential historic neighborhoods and currently reigns as the epicenter for all things hip. The upscale district, tucked east of Lake Eola Heights and centered on Lake Lawsona along Thornton Avenue, defies suburban clichés. This is one community where you can surprisingly walk just about everywhere, including to your office and local supermarket — unlike the burbs where driving is almost impossible to avoid.

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(Cover Story) Andrew Gillum: Profile of a Trailblazer


ONYX Magazine celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans and those of the African diaspora.


Andrew Gillum is a winner. He proved his leadership savvy prior to launching a remarkable campaign to become the state of Florida’s next governor and the first democrat in two decades. In a razor-thin race towards victory, Gillum fell less than 80,000 votes short and ultimately conceded defeat by his opponent. But his winning spirit, his tenacity and grassroots approach, altered the political landscape of the southern peninsula and ignited an inspirational movement to both “Bring it Home” and turn Florida blue.

Gillum was a winner when he garnered votes to win mayor of Tallahassee in the state’s capital and before that, an eager pioneer who became the youngest person in history elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. Public service is a life Gillum knows well. It’s an existence he’s remained dedicated to for 15-years and one that ultimately designated him the architect of his destined, gubernatorial triumph.

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American Bar Association combats Poverty

miami times

Plagued by poverty

 Penny Dickerson Special to The Miami Times | 10/14/2015, 2 p.m.


 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.

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THANK YOU: my “Address Africa” donors

go fund meWe made GOAL!

Thank you immensely to my family and friends for your unwavering support as I embark upon a Godly assignment and magnificent journey with Mercy Ships Africa Mercy in Senegal.

While your photographs are below (randomly tiled by wordpress), I wanted to share you with the world. None are greater than the other as you each played an integral role in meeting my goal.

Collectively you are:

A two-time presidential appointee and foremost consultant on African trade; an accomplished stage/television actress whose boss is Tyler Perry and who calls Oprah Winfrey’s network home; my daughter and dancer who unselfishly coaches “The Fly Girls” at a Title I school while raising two of the world’s next best geniuses; a 29-year U.S. Army retiree who is a cultural product entrepreneur; a U.S. Air Force reservist who currently procures billion dollar contracts for the FAA; a dancer/executive director/model who was named one of Jacksonville’s most beautiful women; a Villanova University law graduate and soror who sweats her way through life with both fitness and finesse; a jewel who is my first love’s daughter, and he was a gem. Rest in Peace J. Continue Reading »

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