Brief Encounters: Natalie Dickerson - Good Spirit and Hard Work
As if she recognizes that hers is a big presence, she rations her energy gently with a soft voice and solicitous manner as she welcomes a visitor to her Oak Bluffs home. Three years ago, Natalie Dickerson made the ranch house that has been her family's summer home for more than 60 years her year-round home. It provides an expansive view of the Lagoon and the comfort of summer-style informality, and both are present as the conversation begins at the kitchen table.
Ms. Dickerson is starting her second year as the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Martha's Vineyard. And the dialogue begins there. She describes the mission of the racially and ethnically diverse Vineyard chapter: to advance education, community participation, cultural awareness and to support local and national initiatives.
"When I was approached by the NAACP to become - let's see, what am I," she says, laughing - "to become president, I took on the responsibility because of my spiritual viewpoint, and the belief that there's a goodness in all people, and a common goal that benefits all people. My goal for 2008 for the NAACP is" - she pauses to find the right words - "my goal is to refocus on the national NAACP mission statement that is to make this a world and a community that is comfortable for everybody to live in. The NAACP, even though it says 'for colored people,' is an organization for everybody. That's the way I see it."
She points to the plaque on her kitchen wall - large wooden block letters spelling out "love," and another that spells "peace." She says, "I am universal in my thinking. To me it's about love. I don't like to stand in judgment. And that's what made the Vineyard NAACP interesting to me. I'd like to see what I can do to move it to the next spiritual level."
Smiling often, gesturing as she speaks, her long fingers knit the air. "It's a major responsibility to be the president of this organization, especially not knowing all the players. Not knowing a lot of things. And it was tough. However, I work very hard to keep my spirituality, and to keep my sense of who I am. But there's a good board, and I think they have decided they can trust me and work with me to solve things. We've had instances where there's been a lot of drama, and I sit back and listen. I'm not a highly reactive person. I'm not going to make a decision, or a judgment by shooting from the hip. I have to let things sink in, and then I can come back with love."
Ms. Dickerson recounts meeting Sadie Goss, keynote speaker at this Monday's brunch honoring Martin Luther King, who introduced herself and told her to remember that she had a lot of power, but if she gave the people she was working with their power, they would bring it back to her. The message impressed her enough to repeat.
Ms. Dickerson's background includes working in New York for the National Urban League, where she was executive director of a national child abuse project. She was also an area manager for an art gallery with locations in Connecticut and New York. At the graduate and postgraduate level, she studied sociology, organizational development, marketing, and metaphysical healing.
An ordained spiritual minister, Ms. Dickerson is a Reiki and Kruna Ki Master. It's a way of living, she agrees, more than just something you do. "Every day I start off by saying, 'I'd like to be a clear and open channel for Your love and light, dear God, to flow through me and touch everyone I come in contact with.' Then once that platform is set, I can move ahead. That's my ritual. And because I keep working on myself, my ability to do readings and to pick up information on people and so on and so forth, has become heightened. Not just because I was ordained."
She smiles. "So I finally came out of the closet. I decided to talk about it now because I've been studying metaphysics for 35 years. And 35 years ago you just didn't talk about it."
Ms. Dickerson has long been able to seem conventional in less than conventional circumstances. Her father, Nathaniel Dickerson, was a member of The Mariners, the quartet that regularly appeared on Arthur Godfrey's television show. The family, (her late mother, Ellen, "the glue," and her brother, Nate, president of an international financial consulting group based in Viet Nam), lived in a privileged neighborhood in Stamford, Conn.
"It was an interesting life. A great opportunity for the whole family," she says, noting she was once the only black girl in her class. "There are times when I've had more white friends than black. But it doesn't make any difference. It's where a person's heart is. I was brought up to be very open to all nationalities and colors." She smiles again. "In Stamford, we were so well known that things just flowed on, but here I've had to establish myself."
And how is year-round life on the Vineyard? "It's got good and bad points," she admits. "I don't have any problems being out and talking and doing what I have to, but sometimes I can be a little shy. I can get real quiet. I'm still finding my way." Never married - "That's so boring," she declares - she smiles and says, "I'm busy here, but I feel now it's time to share."
Join Natalie Dickerson at the NAACP brunch on Monday, Jan. 21, at 10 am at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center, Center Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $50 for adults or $30 for youths, and includes NAACP membership. For reservations and tickets, call 508-693-2797.