Florida Courier’s Penny Dickerson will be writing aboard the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship.
PHOTO BY GREGORY MCKINNON
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 STAFF
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 Praise and Worship 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 AfricanAmerican, 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 submittal, 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 oneyear 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.
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.”
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, 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.