A Force of Pride In Her Community
Community Leader Dee Dixon Sees a Problem – And Sets Out to Solve it
Don’t attempt keeping up with Dee Dixon.
“She can run circles around a lot of young people,” said Rhonda Caldwell, her friend and frequent special events collaborator.
Dixon is a successful serial entrepreneur, active participant in Charlotte’s business and civic life, and a leader in the community. As president and CEO of Pride Communications, she’s helped build Pride Magazine into an important voice in Charlotte’s Black community.
She also co-founded Pride Public Relations, a full-service communications and community engagement firm.
Plus, she’s the immediate past chair of the board of the Charlotte Museum of History. “That museum is a gem that’s only just beginning to shine,” Dixon said. “I felt really needed on that board. There was work to be done, and it was work I knew how to do. I’m really, at heart, a worker bee.”
Ever the trailblazer, she was the museum’s first Black woman to serve in that capacity, and she left an indelible imprint. Under Dixon’s leadership, the museum exceeded its $1 million capital campaign goal to preserve and relocate the historic one-room Siloam School, one of the original Rosenthal Schools built to educate Black children in the segregated South.
Siloam School was built in northeast Charlotte in the early 1920s. The museum will move the building to its eight-acre campus in east Charlotte this summer, where it will become a community resource and center for education.
Dixon, a North Carolina Central University alum with a master’s degree in urban administration from UNC Charlotte, also served on the boards of the Mint Museum of Art, the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Association.
Dixon’s path wasn’t laid out for her.
“I didn’t originally have a clear idea of what I wanted to become,” Dixon said. She went through a divorce and had three young children to care for when she was working as an administrative assistant at the Charlotte Observer.
The Observer’s former publisher, Rolfe Neill, was an early mentor who saw something in Dixon she hadn’t yet seen in herself. He often asked what she wanted to do at the newspaper. She told him the ad sales reps seemed to enjoy their work, and she thought she might be good at that job.
Selling advertising (which she did for 14 years at Community Pride Magazine, as it was called when it was a publication of the Observer) was the beginning of a long, successful and varied career. When the original Pride publisher left, Dixon took over.
In 2001, she was given the opportunity to buy the magazine, thus launching her career as an entrepreneur.
Pride PR originated organically in 2008 as an offshoot of the magazine. Clients who bought ads sometimes needed help with logos and other basics, and Dixon wanted to provide that service.
She and her partner, Nepherterra “Neph” Best (a former intern when she was a student at Johnson C. Smith University), have grown the agency into a full-service PR powerhouse with clients that include Walmart, Wells Fargo, Inlivian and the cities of Charlotte and Milwaukee. The agency offers media relations, brand management, community relations, website design, marketing research and media buying.
Pride PR often takes on nonprofit clients whose missions resonate. For instance, Mental Health America of Central Carolinas offers counseling support at low and no cost, which Dixon is especially excited about. “We’re trying to reduce the stigma, especially in communities of color, about mental illness,” she said.
The agency also worked closely with Foundation For The Carolinas in launching the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative – a $250 million public/private partnership designed to increase equity for all.
Given how busy Dixon is, she doesn’t have much time for beating around the bush. “Dee is a straight shooter,” said Caldwell. “She’s transparent; what you see is what you get.”
A founder many times over
In 2009, Dixon and Stephanie Counts, former CEO of Charlotte’s YWCA, co-founded Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange (WIE), a nonprofit that offers programs that promote thought-provoking exchanges on diversity and inclusion. “Our thought was that women can change the world,” Dixon said.
The nonprofit is designed to help women build social capital. Counts has retired, and Dixon is out of the day-to-day management, but the organization continues.
As if that’s not enough, in 2008 she founded the nonprofit Pride Educational Empowerment Program (PEEP), Pride Magazine’s community outreach arm, which grew out of a Pride issue called “Who Will Save Our Children?” PEEP, based on Dixon’s belief that “not everyone is cut out for college, and that’s OK,” has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships since its inception.
“Early on, our primary focus was entrepreneurship,” she said. “We’ve expanded the scope to focus on building generational wealth and reducing the racial wealth gap.” PEEP has brought a national curriculum – an eight-week course on investing in the stock market – to Cochrane Collegiate Academy, a Title I school. There are plans to expand to other Title I schools, as well.
Dixon was addressing Charlotte’s racial wealth gap years before the 2014 study was released that ranked the city last among U.S. cities for upward mobility. (“Black children suffer in so many ways – childbirth, health, education, economically,” she said.)
Since then, Leading On Opportunity (an initiative of FFTC) has been working to address the lack of social mobility in Charlotte. Dixon believes the Task Force’s efforts are working. “The Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative is another step in the right direction,” she said.
Still, she knows racial equity is an uphill climb: “During COVID and after the George Floyd murder, it seemed like we, as a country, were making progress. But I wonder if interest has sort of died out. We need a way to measure progress, and I’m not sure we have a method of measurement yet.”
Caldwell has been working with Dixon for more than 10 years on the annual Pride Awards. That vantage point has given her the opportunity to see Dixon interact with a number of people. “I see the compassion she has for the people in this community,” she said. “Dee treats everyone, whether a vendor or CEO, the same.”
Tye Feimster and Nikelle Fesperman work with their mom. Dixon’s oldest, Torrey Feimster, used to work with Dixon but has since moved on. “Dee surrounds herself with the right people,” she added. “That includes her children, who have the same work ethic Dee does. She’s not just building a business; she’s building a legacy.”
Caldwell said Dixon puts a lot of care into who she chooses as vendors. “Dee always does her due diligence before beginning a relationship with a vendor,” she said.
The black-tie Pride Awards, established in the early days of Pride Magazine, recognize the achievements of African-Americans to the Charlotte region. This year’s theme – “A 30-year Journey of Inspiration and Innovation” – celebrates three decades of Pride Magazine.
The Pride Awards began as an evening gala, but in recent years, the event has become a luncheon. This year, it’s billed as a black-tie “Day Ball.”
On Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, about 600 people will gather at the Westin Charlotte to honor the Pride Inspiration Award recipient (the Arts Empowerment Project), the Pride Innovation Award (Lowe’s) and the Pride Technology Award recipient – a still-to-be-announced high school student.
‘The best teacher’
Being a world traveler is an essential part of who Dixon is. “Seeing the world has expanded me in every way you can imagine,” she said. “Travel is the best teacher. When you meet people of different races and cultures, you learn and you grow.”
Caldwell said travel is restorative for Dixon, who’s almost always working. “But she knows when to take breaks. Travel allows her to grow, heal and rest.”
Of her first international trip – to Ghana – Dixon said, “I was forever changed. I hungered for more.”
Her favorite places she’s been? “All of them,” she said. “I don’t glamorize travel. Every trip comes with good, bad and ugly. Your luggage gets lost. You get lost. I’m a realist and know that travel comes with glitches. But when you return home, it’s the beauty and wonder you remember.”
The most beautiful places she’s ever been: Santorini, Greece; Machu Picchu; China.
“I always tell people: No matter where you go, we’re all under the same sun. We’re all the same, really. We breathe. We eat. We want to live in safety.”
That humble view of the world is reflected in all that Dixon does. Perhaps not surprising for someone who has achieved so much – she sees her success as a product of working hard at what God has put in front of her.
“I don’t think of myself as successful,” she said. “But if others do, they should know the steps I’ve taken have been laid out by God. I didn’t set out to start two nonprofits. The need was put before me, so I began the work. I don’t take any credit.”