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20 Apr 2023

The 7th Annual Women of Excellence Luncheon

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April 20, 2023 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: The 7th Annual Women of Excellence honorees from left to right: Lenore Sears-Gay, Vanesse Lloyd Sgambati, Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall Blake, Aja Graydon Dantzler, Desiree Tillman-Langford, Dr. Edith Mitchell, Frankie Darcell, and Elleanor Jean Hendley.  Photo credit: Kharisma McIlwaine

By Kharisma McIlwaine

On Saturday, April 15, 2023, the 7th Annual WDAS Women of Excellence Luncheon, presented by Xfinity! was held at LIVE! Casino and Hotel in Philadelphia. Each year WDAS 105.3 FM, Philly’s Best R&B and Throwbacks station, honors women who are pioneers in their communities and respective careers. Xfinity served as this year’s presenting sponsor, with additional sponsorship by Rand Spear, The Accident Lawyer, Visit Philadelphia, and the Ladipo. 

This year’s honorees included: Sharrie Williams, Aja Graydon Dantzler, Dr. Edith Mitchell, Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall Blake, and Vanesse Lloyd Sgambati. The luncheon also honored local “sheroes” — women who go above and beyond to enrich and uplift their communities. Those local honorees featured: Elleanor Jean Hendley, Veronica Joyner, Desiree Tillman-Langford and Lenore Sears-Gay. 

Additionally, WDAS-FM honored iconic female rap pioneer, actress, voice over artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist MC Lyte with the Women of Excellence Legend Award. The brilliant ladies of WDAS — radio legends Patty Jackson, Mimi Brown, Frankie Darcell and Loraine Ballard Morrill —director of news and community affairs — served as presenters for the event. 

Philadelphia’s own DJ Diamond Kuts, a woman of excellence in her own right, provided the perfect soundtrack to begin the luncheon. Houston native and violinist Dominique Hammons opened the program officially, exciting the crowd by reimagining R&B and hip-hop favorites with a classical twist. He ended his set with a rendition of “Before I Let Go” that brought a large portion of their crowd to their feet to do the electric slide. 

The program continued with opening remarks and prayer before acknowledging the honorees. WDAS’ Loraine Ballard Morrill introduced the first honoree of the day, Vanesse Lloyd Sgambati. Sgambati, CEO and founder of the African American Children’s Book Project (AACBP) shared her thoughts on being an honoree.

“It is truly an honor,” Sgambati said. “Anytime you get acknowledged for the things you do for the community it is always something special. WDAS is my family and they have always supported my initiatives over the years —  it’s truly a blessing from God.”

Dr. Edith Mitchell, oncologist, researcher and 116th president of the National Media Association at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital was introduced by WDAS’ Frankie Darcell — a former patient of Dr. Mitchell. 

Darcell, who has been breast cancer free for five years, credits Mitchell with saving her life. Mitchell has a lifetime of career accomplishments, including becoming the first Black female doctor in the Missouri Air National Guard to become a general and the first African American female to be promoted to the rank of general. Regal and intentional with every phrase, Mitchell offered a number of gems to the audience. 

“I thank everybody for being here today,” she said. “I thank my patients, there are several of them here. And for Philadelphia, we need to work together to improve current health care. It’s not just the doctors, or Jefferson Hospital — everybody can do something. So, let’s look at what is it we can do to ensure that we’ve got good health care in America.”

Mimi Brown introduced the first local honoree of the day, Veronica Joyner, the founder and CAO of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School and the founder and president of the non-profit organization Parents United for Better Schools (PUBS). 

During her acceptance speech, Joyner discussed the importance of education, encouraging the audience to “always support your schools because you can control an uneducated group of people.”

Patty Jackson introduced Lenore Sears-Gay, a pediatric home care nurse with 40 plus years of experience, medical foster parent and the founder of Lenore’s Loving Care. Sears-Gay was presented with two checks for $1,000 on behalf of Rand Spear,  one as a thank you for her tireless work to help individuals facing health disparities and financial hardships, and the other to be donated to the charity of her choice.

“One of my passions is giving back to the community, and one of the reasons I do so much is because 14 years ago I was given the devastating diagnosis of multiple sclerosis,” Sears-Gay said. “The doctor told me that in the next 15 to 20 years I was going to be in a wheelchair. Of course, I was devastated, but as I was being wheeled out of the hospital, a nurse bent down in my ear and she said, ‘Don’t stop moving.’ So, every chance I get, every breath in my body, I want to give back to somebody while I’m able to still walk and give back.” 

Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation and VP of community affairs at Independence Blue Cross — a leader in philanthropy and champion for health care — shared her joy with those present.

“I just want to say congratulations to my fellow honorees for the phenomenal work they do day in and day out that affects this city, this state and this nation,” she said. “I want to thank WDAS, Patty Jackson, Loraine and the whole company for selecting me to be a woman of excellence. One of my mottos is excellence is everything because mediocrity is nothing. John Maxwell said ‘the measure of a leader is not the number of people that serve him, but the number of people she serves. So, we can all serve.” 

Honoree Desiree Tillman- Langford is an entrepreneur and founder of Nayaz Variety. Nayaz Variety provides mobile shopping and delivery experiences for assisted living facilities and elderly communities. 

“To create a service company that has never been done before is scary, sometimes defeating and it can be lonely,” Tillman-Langford said. “A lot of sacrifice is needed and a lot of times you’ll be misunderstood. The upside to doing this is answering God’s call. I hope that this recognition of my work can serve as inspiration to others. If my work can make a difference, so can yours.”

Since her arrival in 2014, Sharrie Williams, co-anchor of 6abc Action News at 5 p.m. and Action News at 10 p.m. on PHL 17, has become a vital member of the Philadelphia community.

In fact, community has always been at the forefront of Williams’ platform — a mission she continues to prioritize.

“I’m just so humbled and thankful to know that people are paying attention, and not only that they are paying attention, but they want to celebrate you,” Williams said. “To be named one of the Women of Excellence this year with WDAS… I’m just very thankful. I believe in being a part of the community I live in, that’s a big mission of mine. This radio station and what they do —  they’ve got their arms around the community. For them to take note of what I’m doing and my presence in the city of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley — I’m very grateful about it.”

Emmy Award-winning former CBS3 journalist and honoree Elleanor Jean Hendley founded Teenshop, Inc. in 1985. Teenshop, Inc is a nationally recognized college preparatory and life skills non-profit weekend program that prepares teenage girls for college and their future careers. 

“This is truly a blessing,” Hendley said. “I’m so grateful to WDAS with sincere gratitude and much appreciation. It is really a privilege to be among these Women of Excellence. When I was growing up, my dreams were limited. There were no women on television that looked like me. First, you have to see it, then believe you can achieve it.”

Philadelphia’s own Aja Graydon Dantzler — singer, songwriter, co-founder of Kindred the Family Soul, digital media podcast host, wife, mother and entrepreneur — was recognized for her countless contributions to our city. Graydon Dantzler’s recognition as an honoree comes at the perfect time. This year marks another milestone, her and her husband Fatin Dantzler’s 20th year anniversary of Kindred the Family Soul’s debut album “Surrender to Love.” 

“I feel honored and humbled, honestly,” she said. “Being able to look at the other honorees and to be included means everything because legacy is a big deal to me. Excellence just means extremely good. As I contemplate what qualifies me as extremely good, I cannot separate myself from the grander ecosystem of Black womanness that continues to gestate and give birth to new versions of itself all the time.”

MC Lyte was the final honoree to be recognized with the Women of Excellence Legend Award. The multihyphenate icon, with over three decades of tenure in the entertainment industry, celebrates this achievement during the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. 

“Thank you so much for this acknowledgment,” Lyte said.. “This is a great year. First off, happy 50th celebration of hip-hop for all of those who will admit that hip-hop has played a huge role in inspiring many generations here in the United States of America and abroad. I, being one of the ones who was lucky enough to be admitted into the gate of hip-hop culture, I stand before you now realizing that I was given an opportunity because God laid the pathway for me. I grew up as an only child, so I didn’t learn about sisterhood until many years later, but I am very grateful to learn what sisterhood is, to become one and to be able to live my highest self. Now I get to go out, see the world, live with a purpose and hopefully inspire as many people as I can that you can do whatever it is you dream, you can do. There is no time limit. If you have the [belief] and the “get down” to go get it, it is possible. Build your team of sisterhood.”

The  luncheon ended with live performances from Christian Keyes, SIR and PJ Morton and an elated audience eager to see the phenomenal women who will be honored next year. 

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