California Roll

Philly’s most Remarkable Woman in Hollywood, on a whirlwind weekend with 111 new best friends (and one secret it’s time to share).

Meet Lawanda Horton, Philadelphia’s most Remarkable Woman for 2023. Early this year, Channel 17 and the station’s owners, NextStar Media Group, announced a call for nominations, and soon narrowed down their selection to four outstanding women in the area. Philly’s ultimate winner was Lawanda Horton, President and CEO of Mission Incorporated (a Germantown-based nonprofit consulting firm).

This April she got an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles, California where she joined 111 other Remarkable Women for three days of royal treatment and celebration — plus, every finalist received $1,000 towards the non-profit of her choice. “It feels truly remarkable opportunity to be so honored, “ said Lawanda, “And I’m so proud to represent the city and Germantown on the national stage.”

Although 2023 was the fourth Remarkable Woman of the Year award ceremony, it’s the first one that wasn’t virtual. With the COVID emergency over this spring, the hosts were excited to create a live, in-person Hollywood experience. An extravaganza, really. “They went over the top, I think they’d been waiting a long time to finally celebrate the way they’d always planned,” said Lawanda.

All the fanfare culminated in a star-studded awards dinner that praised the room of exceptional women and announced that year’s national Remarkable Woman of the Year, for whom the Nexstar Charitable Foundation makes a $10,000 donation to the non-profit organization of her choice. (This year’s winner was Mona Highline from Colorado, who works to support unhoused families in Grand Junction ❤️.)

For Lawanda, the whole experience of being chosen to represent Philly for this amazing adventure was an enormous award in itself. “’Remarkable’ is my word of the year now,” she told us, “All of the women from the different local affiliates, we were all treated like A-list celebrities. And we had a whole camera crew following us, like we were in a reality show.” Indeed Nexstar produced a video of highlights and interviews from this weekend of female camaraderie.

“The day we took the bus tour, we had a helicopter following us the entire time!” said Lawanda, who laughed when she described how they were coached to wave and yell at them. All along their route, they stopped for free coffee and treats, including visits to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum — where Lawanda took the opportunity to slap the Will Smith mannequin (!) —  and Gauman’s Chinese Theater, which impressed Lawanda with its historic architecture and Buddhist vibe.

On the big night, the women walked the red carpet at a gala including guest celebrities Leeza Gibbons from Entertainment Tonight, Cookie Johnson (Magic’s wife), and EGOT winner Jennifer Hudson. Each honoree received her very own custom star created by the artist who makes the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (with a certificate of authenticity from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce!).

“The most remarkable thing about this whole experience was that all these incredible women who did not know each other at all, instantly became best friends.,” Lawanda said, “That’s a real testament to the kind of women that were selected. I felt honored to be among these women, every one of them.”

What’s next for Philly’s Remarkable Woman? Lawanda’s busy planning the second annual Philly Got Barz anti-violence rap contest. Last year they gave away a grand prize of $2,000, and this year they’re thinking even bigger: more celebrities, more partnerships, more press and prizes. “We have great momentum to build on,” Lawanda said, adding that she’s also organizing a Logan block party, a sneaker event, and a basketball tournament.

“We have a lot of stuff in the works that we hope will not only be something special in the moment, but will also have lasting impact. Mission Inc. is all about tangible outcomes: how many kids can we get back in school, how many citizens records can we expunge, how many nonprofits can we assist with plans, projects, fundraising.”

On a Personal Note… 

For all Lawanda’s empowerment – and throughout all the excitement of her Remarkable Woman adventure — she’s been carrying a secret that she’s finally willing to share.

“I didn’t want my story to be about my cancer diagnosis,” she told us, “I wanted to focus on 18+ years of hard work that got me here, not the breast cancer that tried to stop me.” At the height of the COVID-19 shutdown, Lawanda endured rounds of surgery, chemo and radiation like a champ, ultimately receiving a clear bill of health from her doctors this year.

Today, Lawanda’s not just a winner: she’s a survivor. Her health crisis better connects her to the people she serves through Mission Inc, the neighbors dealing with trash on their streets, food deserts, domestic violence, crime and human suffering. Her years battling cancer have turned out to be her most productive, “Somehow we managed to raise $26 million for these people, through begging and grant writing. Now that’s a story, right?”

Learn more about Lawanda and how you can help this Remarkable Woman continue uplifting Philadelphia communities from within:

Mission Inc
Philadelphia, PA / Durham, NC

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