Women of Excellence 2016

Thank You for Joining Us at the 2nd Annual Women of Excellence Luncheon!

WDAS, Gwynedd Mercy University, and PhillyJustice.com Present:
The Second Annual Women Of Excellence Luncheon

WDAS thanks you for joining us at our Second Annual Women of Excellence Luncheon on Saturday, April 2, 2016! Check out all of the photos and video recaps below.

WITH PERFORMANCES BY: After 7, Lalah Hathaway and Avant!

After 7
After 7

Lalah Hathaway

On April 2nd, we honored the following women of excellence:
2016 Trailblazing Woman of Excellence Award Recipient: Patti LaBelle

• Retired Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, CEO of the American Red Cross
Joyce Evans, news anchor and reporter, Fox 29
Sonia Sanchez, renowned writer, poet, playwright and activist
• Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Philadelphia City Council
Romona Riscoe Benson, Manager, Corporate Relations, PECO

Joan Myers BrownValerie CrabbeDavida GodettBad Suns

WDAS asked the Tri-State region to nominate women who they felt personified the title of "Woman of Excellence." Below are the four local women we have honored.

Congratulations to Local Sheroes: Joan Myers Brown, Valerie Crabbe, Davida Godett and Andrea Lawful Sanders.

Scroll down to see their full bios.

Brought to you by WDAS-FM, Gwynedd Mercy University, and Philly Justice
Gwynedd Mercy University Philly Justice

Patti LaBelle, 2016 Trailblazing Woman of Excellence Award Recipient

Patti LaBelle

Beautiful, simply does not describe the incomparable force known to the world as Patti LaBelle. Through the years, the songbird's name has become synonymous with grace, style, and class. Her effortless ability to belt out classic rhythm and blues renditions, pop standards and spiritual sonnets has created the unique platform of versatility that the artist is known and revered for.

For more than 50 years, Patti's strong and soulful voice has left an indelible mark all over the world. This Philadelphia born entertainer captured her first hit in 1962, as lead singer of The BlueBelles and went on to receive worldwide acclaim with the trailblazing and genre bending trio, Labelle. A solo artist since the 1970s, Patti has created timeless songs that have helped cement her place as a music icon and garnered her numerous honors, including GRAMMY Awards, American Music Awards, NAACP Image Awards, New York Times bestsellers and more. From music to film to books, Patti has shown her diversity and broken down barriers as an entertainer and businesswoman, most recently launching a line of products, Patti's Good Life.

The same motivation that helped Patricia Louise Holte blossom from choir member to lead vocalist to solo artist is the same energy that keeps her fire burning at seventy years young. In addition to being a world-class artist and mother of five, Patti is just as well known for her philanthropy and willingness to share her blessings and gifts with the world.


Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes (RET), Chief Executive Officer, American Red Cross of Eastern PA

Renée Cardwell Hughes

Renée Cardwell Hughes is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Eastern PA which services 6.2 million Pennsylvanians between in the seventeen (17) counties New York State and State of Delaware borders. The American Red Cross is a global not-for-profit humanitarian and disaster relief agency that operates by the generosity of individuals and corporations who donate their time and resources. Renee is responsible for the American Red Cross's strategic vision, annual operating plan, budget, donor funding program, team leadership, and partnerships with local, state and federal government and business alliances.

Renée leads a team of 80 staff and more than 4,000 volunteers who plan and execute local, regional and national disaster relief, safety education programs, and support members of the Armed Forces. Her team responds to 7-10 fires daily in partnership with regional Fire Departments, manages. Under Renée's leadership, the American Red Cross of Eastern PA has provided food and shelter for citizens affected by Hurricanes Irene & Sandy, the 2015 Amtrak train derailment and support of Pope Francis's visit to America. She is also responsible for the provision of the Red Cross's blood supply for the Region. This region is the largest supplier of blood products in the Red Cross System. During her tenure, Renée successfully spearheaded the merger of 17 counties as well as the integration of the Blood and Humanitarian divisions to deliver enhanced service offerings and more efficient use of donated funds.

Renée operates the only Red Cross House in the nation, a unique 26 suite facility which provides care and recovery for families who have been displaced by fire, floods or other disasters. The House cares for up to 150 people at any time with wrap around recovery services in addition to food and shelter.

Prior to joining the Red Cross, Renée was a trial judge for more than 15 years where she handled both complex civil and criminal cases but specialized in Homicides; handling some of Philadelphia's most notorious cases. She founded the City's mental health court and co-authored a book on witness intimidation.

Judge Renée Hughes received her legal degree from Georgetown University Law Center and her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. She received numerous awards for her leadership, courage, and community involvement. Most recently, Judge Hughes was selected to give a TED Talk on the topic of "Success." Renée serves on the boards of Independence Health Group which is the parent company of Independence Blue Cross, The Haverford Trust Company, Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.


Joyce Evans, Anchor/Special Projects, FOX 29 News

Joyce Evans

Joyce Evans joined the FOX 29 News team in 1996 as a weekend anchor and reporter for the “FOX 29 News at Ten.” She also anchors the “FOX 29 News at Six” every Saturday and Sunday. Joyce also works in our Special Projects Unit, producing and reporting in-depth segments on health and other topics.

After two years in network radio news, Joyce launched her television career as a reporter and anchor of the morning news for WSET-TV, the ABC affiliate in Lynchburg, Virginia. While at the station, she received an Associated Press Award for Spot News. In 1983, she moved to Miami, Florida, where she was a weekend anchor and reporter for the CBS affiliate, WCIX-TV (now WFOR). She also hosted a popular public affairs program geared toward senior citizens.

In 1986, Joyce moved north to KYW-TV in Philadelphia. For ten years, she was a general assignment reporter, fill-in anchor, and host of “The Saturday Tribune” television program.

An award-winning journalist, Joyce's work has garnered many prestigious awards and nominations. For example: her report on the struggles of people with Alzheimer's Disease, the effects on the families and the bond between patients and caregivers won a Mid-Atlantic EMMY Award. Her undercover report on children stalked and attacked by other children on their walk home from school was another EMMY Award winner. Joyce's story about the power of forgiveness between former teen gangsters, coming together to mentor others, following a killing and a longstanding grudge won her another EMMY.

The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists named her “Broadcast Journalist of the Year” in 2008. The Tom Joyner Foundation named her "The Hardest Working News Anchor/Reporter," and Clear Channel Radio's WDAS saluted her with the “Extraordinary Woman Award,” just to name a few.

Her accomplishments are not limited to her work in front of the camera.
Joyce has worked as an adjunct professor at Temple University, and continues to mentor young journalists and students all over the country.
Joyce has received numerous honors for her service to the community, including awards from the Children's Miracle Network, the American Red Cross, Temple University's Adult Career retraining programs, NAACP, the Black Law Enforcement Officers, and the Spruce Adolescent Counseling and Education Project.

An alumna of TRIO/Upward Bound, the organization honored Joyce with its "National Achiever's Award" for her lifetime efforts of encouraging underprivileged youngsters around the country to achieve. Both Howard University and Florida A & M have honored her as a “Distinguished Alumna.” Born in Washington, D.C., Joyce now considers Philadelphia her hometown. She is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the National Association of Black Journalists, and a number of public service organizations. In her spare time, she enjoys attending live concerts, theatre, and watching classic old movies.


Sonia Sanchez, Renowned Writer, Poet, Playwright and Activist

Sonia Sanchez

Poet. Mother. Professor. National and International lecturer on Black Culture and Literature, Women's Liberation, Peace and Racial Justice. Sponsor of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Board Member of MADRE. Sonia Sanchez is the author of over 20 books including Homecoming, We a BaddDDD People, Love Poems, I've Been a Woman, A Sound Investment and Other Stories, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Under a Soprano Sky, Wounded in the House of a Friend (Beacon Press 1995), Does Your House Have Lions? (Beacon Press, 1997), Like the Singing Coming off the Drums (Beacon Press, 1998), Shake Loose My Skin (Beacon Press, 1999) and most recently, Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010).

In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, she has edited an anthology, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans. BMA: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review is the first African American Journal that discusses the work of Sonia Sanchez and the Black Arts Movement. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts, the Lucretia Mott Award for 1984, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, she is a winner of the 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities for 1988, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom (W.I.L.P.F.) for 1989, a PEW Fellowship in the Arts for 1992-1993 and the recipient of Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999. Does Your House Have Lions? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the Poetry Society of America's 2001 Robert Frost Medalist and a Ford Freedom Scholar from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Her poetry also appeared in the movie Love Jones.

Sonia Sanchez has lectured at over 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has traveled extensively, reading her poetry in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, the People's Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University and she held the Laura Carnell Chair in English at Temple University. She is the recipient of the Harper Lee Award, 2004, Alabama Distinguished Writer, and the National Visionary Leadership Award for 2006. She is the recipient of the 2005 Leeway Foundation Transformational Award and the 2009 Robert Creeley Award.

Currently, Sonia Sanchez is one of 20 African American women featured in "Freedom Sisters," an interactive exhibition created by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. In December of 2011, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter selected Sonia Sanchez as Philadelphia's first Poet Laureate, calling her "the longtime conscience of the city."


Hon. Blondell Reynolds Brown, Councilwoman, Philadelphia City Council

Blondell Reynolds Brown

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown is currently serving her fifth term as a member of Philadelphia City Council. On January 4, 2016, Councilwoman Reynolds Brown was again elected to serve as Majority Whip, and is the only woman serving in City Council Leadership.

Councilwoman Reynolds Brown is dedicated to enriching the lives of Philadelphia residents by “Putting People First.” As an educator, community activist, political leader and concerned parent, her focus and commitment to helping others defined her work prior to her election to Philadelphia City Council. After graduating from the Philadelphia High School for Girls, Reynolds Brown earned a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and a Master of Science in Education, both from Penn State University. She started her career in the classroom as a teacher with the School District of Philadelphia. Reynolds Brown then began a career as a professional dancer, ultimately earning a place as a company member of the Philadelphia Dance Company, affectionately known as Philadanco. Following her company membership, she continued her affiliation with Philadanco, becoming a dance instructor and later a board member for 20 years.

A sought-after speaker, Councilwoman Reynolds Brown devotes her programmatic and legislative efforts toward improving the quality of life and life chances of our City's most vulnerable citizens: children. Since 1999, Reynolds Brown has become an honorary mentor to thousands of women and girls through her signature program, The Celebration of Moxie Women. Through this program, Reynolds Brown has honored hundreds of successful business and professional women, working mothers, and Philadelphia's “Next Generation of Women Leaders: Rising Stars.”

Councilwoman Reynolds Brown has passed meaningful legislation and supported valuable community programming that positively impacts her core issues: children and youth, women, arts and culture, education, small business development, and the environment and sustainability. Legislative accomplishments include mentorship funding, menu labeling, women on boards, department of parks and recreation merger, and much more.

Hon. Blondell Reynolds Brown's Motto is “Dream big and if that does not work – dream BIGGER


Romona Riscoe Benson, Manager - Corporate Relations, PECO

Romona Riscoe Benson

Romona Riscoe Benson is PECO's manager of Corporate Relations. Benson has more than 25 years in strategic leadership in the areas of event programming, marketing, community affairs, museum management, tourism and promotion. She oversees a $5 million contributions budget, and leads PECO's sponsorships, community partnerships, employee engagement, event and sports facility management programs.

Benson served as president and CEO of the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Romona led an effort to stabilize the organization, eliminated its structural deficit, increased visitation, raised membership and attracted its largest base of donors in the museum's history. She directed a $4.5 million building renovation project and installation of a nationally recognized exhibit on the early life of African Americans in Philadelphia, known as Audacious Freedom.

Previously providing consulting services, Benson produced numerous reports and studies for a number of cultural arts and tourism organizations, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. She developed a tourism promotion plan for the Philadelphia Dance Company, fundraising initiatives with Freedom Theatre, and live jazz concert series with Camden County Parks and Recreation. Her firm also created the African American history template used in Pennsylvania's heritage tourism products, through the State's project known as Quest for Freedom.

She served five years as the executive director of the PCVB's Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress, where she produced the PECO Energy Jazz Festival. Prior to that, Benson was Senior Director of Visitor Services and Community Relations with the New Jersey State Aquarium. She has served as a congressional delegate to the White House Conference on Tourism and was an advisor to the NAACP on its Economic Reciprocity in Lodging Initiative.

Romona has served on numerous boards and committees in the Philadelphia area, including the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia School Partnership, Delaware Valley MS Society, Mayor's Commission on Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, and People's Light and Theatre Company. She has been recognized by many organizations, including: The Philadelphia Tribune, Philadelphia Business Journal, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania and Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, among others.

Romona Riscoe Benson majored in Communications at the University of Pittsburgh, minoring in music, and holds a BA in Human Service Administration from Antioch University. She has certificates in Museum Management from University of Colorado at Boulder and Historic Administration from the American Association of State and Local History, and the Quality Service program of Disney University.

Romona has been a recognized jazz vocalist in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas for over 30 years, and is an avid supporter of the arts. She studied under internationally noted saxophonist, Nathan Davis, and legendary drummer, Kenny Clark. She and her husband Herb enjoy supporting live music, dance and theater performances.


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