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Amina J. Dickerson

Arts administrator and foundation executive, Amina J. Dickerson was born Jill L. Dickerson on February 2, 1954 in Washington, D.C. to Ann Lee Stewart Dickerson and Julius James Dickerson. While in high school, Dickerson wrote a ritual play entitled, The Journey, which bore witness to cultural and personal transformation. Attending Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1972, Dickerson produced her play "The Journey" and then took it on tour. Her theatrical activities brought her back to Washington where she was hired as an administrator by Arena Stage.

After completing the Harvard Program in arts administration in 1974, she joined the National Museum of African Art where she became director of education through 1982. There, she staged public programs including a tribute to Langston Hughes which featured musical group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, jazz and a script by Dr. Eleanor Traylor. Dickerson served as assistant director of Philadelphia’s Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in 1983. In 1984, she became the new president of Chicago’s venerable DuSable Museum of African American History and Culture. While serving at DuSable, Dickerson served as a consultant with the Schomburg Center for Black Research while earning her M.A. degree in arts administration from the American University in 1988. Joining the staff of the Chicago Historical Society in 1989, Dickerson brought in the “I Dream a World” exhibit and established the Sojourner Truth Mentoring Program for young women. In 1994, she became director of education and public programs for the museum. After a fellowship with Newberry Library and a stint as “distinguished visitor” at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Dickerson served as coordinator of the Arts in Education program of the Kraft Foods Company in 1997. There, she was promoted to director of corporate giving, and in 2003 she became senior director of Global Community Involvement. Now, on the other side of the philanthropy table, Dickerson funded valuable initiatives in health, hunger, education and the arts.

Retiring in 2009, Dickerson continues to serve the community through her activities on the boards of the Harris Center for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, co-chair of the Peer Network for International Giving of the Donor’s Forum and vice chair of the International Committee of the Council of Foundations. Dickerson was honored as Chicago Professional Grantor of the Year in 2002, Chicagoan of the Year in 2004 and she received the Legacy Award from the ETA Creative Arts Foundation and the Annual Sor Juana Award from the Mexican Fine Arts Center. The Jazz Institute honored her with the Tim Black Award for Community Service in 2006. Dickerson has presented on various arts and community issues and serves as a consultant to various arts, cultural and philanthropic organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts.

Dickerson lives in Chicago with her husband Julian Roberts.

Dickerson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 17, 2009.

Accession Number

A2009.148

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/17/2009

Last Name

Dickerson

Maker Category
Middle Name

J.

Schools

John Burroughs Elementary School

St. Anthony Catholic School

Academy of Notre Dame

Emerson College

Institute in Arts Administration at Harvard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Amina

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

DIC05

Favorite Season

Fall

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Brazil

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/21/1954

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Playwright and foundation executive Amina J. Dickerson (1954 - ) was the director of global community involvement for the Kraft Foods Company until 2009. Dickerson also served in executive capacities with Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History and the Chicago Historical Society.

Employment

Living Stage Theatre Company

Museum of African Art

Philadelphia’s Afro American Historical and Cultural Museum

DuSable Museum of African American History

Chicago Historical Society

Kraft Foods Group, Inc.,

Favorite Color

Yellow

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Amina J. Dickerson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about her father's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Amina J. Dickerson describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers her neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Amina J. Dickerson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her early exposure to the arts

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her start at the Workshops for Careers in the Arts

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her performances with the Workshops for Careers in the Arts

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about her schooling

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers her trip to Italy

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her high school aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls writing and producing 'The Journey: A Black Ritual Experience'

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls the prevalence of discrimination in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about the African American community in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Amina J. Dickerson describes the rituals in her play, 'The Journey'

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about the spiritual component of her play, 'The Journey'

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about her experiences of discrimination in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers restaging 'The Journey: A Black Ritual Experience'

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls producing 'The Journey' in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her transition to the field of arts administration

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls the members of the Living Stage Theatre Company

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her experiences at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers the Institute in Arts Administration at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her work at the Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson describes the programs at the Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her challenges at the Afro American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her dismissal from the Afro American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers seeking a position at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls joining the staff of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about her presidency of the DuSable Museum of African American History

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson reflects upon her achievements at the DuSable Museum of African American History

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about the challenges faced by African American museums, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about the challenges faced by African American museums, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Amina J. Dickerson reflects upon her conflicts with Margaret Burroughs

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Amina J. Dickerson reflects upon her tenure at the DuSable Museum of African American History

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her transition to the Chicago Historical Society

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Amina J. Dickerson describes the programs of the Chicago Historical Society

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers meeting her husband

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson talks about her fellowships

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson remembers joining the Kraft Foods Group, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her role at the Kraft Foods Group, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson recalls her retirement from the Kraft Foods Group, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Amina J. Dickerson reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Amina J. Dickerson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Amina J. Dickerson reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Amina J. Dickerson reflects upon her family

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Amina J. Dickerson shares her motto

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Amina J. Dickerson describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Amina J. Dickerson narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

1$2

DATitle
Amina J. Dickerson recalls her early exposure to the arts
Amina J. Dickerson talks about the spiritual component of her play, 'The Journey'
Transcript
What were you like growing up? What were you interested in in and what kind of information did you come in contact with that shaped, you know?$$Well the arts were always a part of our life. We spent a lot of time especially in muggy hot humid Washington, D.C. The only place you could find air conditioning was very often with museums that are free. So we spent a lot of time in the Smithsonian museums [Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.] and Ann and Dick [Dickerson's parents, Ann Stewart Dickerson and Julius Dickerson] made a priority for us to have the exposure to dance and to music and to theater. So we did Shakespeare [William Shakespeare] in the park that was free down near the Washington Monument [Washington, D.C.] we went and sat on the steps of the Ellipsis [sic. The Ellipse, Washington, D.C.] and hear musical concerts. We got hauled over to the Marine barracks to hear the Marine bands which as you can tell not one of my favorites. We always saw 'Nutcracker' ['The Nutcracker,' Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky]. They just really were culture freaks and we got it from a very early age. We had a wonderful, a wonderful amphitheater the Carter Barron Amphitheatre [Washington, D.C.] off of 16th Street. It was kind of like Ravinia [Ravinia Park] is in Chicago [sic. Highland Park, Illinois]. But they would get season tickets again don't know how they managed season tickets for a family of eight and we got to see all the musicals of the day. We saw 'Guys and Dolls,' we saw 'West Side Story' [Arthur Laurents], we saw 'My Fair Lady' [Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe], we saw 'Camelot' [Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe], we saw 'Carousel' [Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II]. You know, we'd get to see New York City Ballet. I'll never forget one day we waited back stage for [HistoryMaker] Arthur Mitchell to come out and everybody had gone and so we had Arthur Mitchell cornered and got to take him back to his hotel, you know, and talk with him about his career and we chatted him up all the way. I'm sure he was very happy to get out of that station wagon. But it was, it was a kind of defining experience to have the arts always validated and always around us. So we were avid readers. We all read all the time. We did a lot of camping as a family 'cause once again you've got six kids and a limited budget. They paid for us to go to Catholic school so that was a priority and for us to get away we camped around the country. So we'd camped up to Canada for the World's Fair there, we camped out to Wyoming, we'd camp up into Upstate New York and see friends. Again really wonderful eye opening experiences helping us feel that we could be connected to the world that it was ours. There was no barrier for that. We'd talk--my mother would also really talk about the racism and the history. I remember going to Monticello [Charlottesville, Virginia] and her taking us around to the back of Monticello and pointing at those bricks and saying, "You see those bricks? Those bricks were built by slaves so don't ever think that you don't have a part of this legacy. You built this legacy." She would always point that out to us throughout that time. So I started really doing little neighborhood theater things at an early age. You know, my first breakout performance on television was actually on one of the kid's TV shows where they invited you to come up, you know, and who can do something. I'll never forget this was something that akin to 'Captain Kangaroo' or one of those afternoon shows and I put my hand up and they said. "Well come up. What can you do," and I said, "I can whistle." They said, "Okay, well whistle," and nothing came out and I'll never live that down. My brothers [Jan Dickerson, Jaffe Dickerson, Jason Dickerson and Julian Dickerson] were in the audience and they started howling with laughter. So of course the whole family heard that, but--$$How old were you then?$$Oh I think I was five or six years old something like that.$We're talking about ritual theater in, in your play 'The Journey' ['The Journey: A Black Ritual Experience,' Amina J. Dickerson]--$$Yes.$$--what you were trying to accomplish.$$Yes.$$You had to ride herd or try and control the energy on some level of the actors (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah the energy of the room. You know, again, as, as someone who did not have that ritual experience in the church and not out of an affluent African experience. It was at once quite exhilarating and scared me to death but you recognized it as the director you are responsible for these souls that are now in your hands. You know, I guess it was one of the first times that I understood how things work through you. Sometimes you don't have to really understand everything but if it works through you and you just have faith in it, it sort of helped me know what to do how to bring people back down to the state of normalcy of calm. It did get me a reputation as something of a sorceress or something. But they were just magical performances and I think that was part of the power of, of that show.$$I didn't ask this, well I shouldn't, but I'm going to ask this anyway. Did it make, does it make you reflect basically upon what happens with spirituality with people in general? I mean, like when people do that in the church they can do it in Yoruba or they can do it (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yes, and it's so funny, 'cause--$$--but that's a core of whatever the spirituality is.$$It's about a connection and it's about an openness. You have to be open for something for you to receive that, for you to touch those places in yourself. It was so funny because just that makes me reflect on attending candomble services in Brazil and then coming back to a black Baptist church on the West Side [Chicago, Illinois] for the christening of some cousin's children and a woman got the spirit. The way that people move in circles and the way that they react when, when, you know, divine horseman when your head gets taken, when the spirit enters. You really see that that really is of a piece there's not that separation by geography, by religion, by cultural tradition. Ultimately it is about possession in this most glorious way. And so that's what was happening in this production, you know. I had read about it and certainly I knew about it from my exposure to the black theater experience and [HistoryMaker] Barbara Ann Teer and all of that but then it's in your rehearsal room, okay, or it's on your stage. And the idea that every time you did that ritual this might happen out there with an audience and how do you help people move through that to come back to script. So it was, it was an exhilarating time. It really, really was.