Personalities

Higher Love

By Anh-Minh Le

Horowitz views fashion as a form of visual art. Here, in the Sanctuary at Glide, she wears a lace, tiered dress by Manila-based designer Michael Leyva. (Spencer Brown)

Felicia Horowitz gets personal about philanthropy, family and fashion.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Felicia Horowitz dreamed of appearing on Johnny Carson’s late-night talk show. To ready herself for top billing on his stage — where she imagined belting out up-beat tunes like Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights” — she would head to the nearby senior citizen center and perform for a captivated audience. “Being able to entertain the residents and have them in turn support my talent, or lack thereof, fed into my fantasy,” she recalls.

At some point, though, she had an epiphany: “I was blown away by the impact that me just showing up and singing had. In the moment, it was my gift to them. But this gift was from them to me — this community of senior citizens changed the trajectory of my life. My story is that the most important gift is showing up, living with intention, and valuing other people’s lives.”

Last month, Horowitz did find herself front and center on a stage. She wasn’t performing, however. During the Glide Legacy Gala, she presented the Janice Mirikitani Legacy Award to international speaker and communications strategist Mpumi Nobiva, a member of the first graduating class of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. “Mpumi, like Jan, experienced tremendous heartache and obstacles, and also fought her way through using her brain as a tool to change her destiny,” says Horowitz, who was honored with the same award in 2016 for her humanitarian work.

While her activism and altruism reach far and wide — globally, Horowitz is involved with the American Jewish World Service, International Rescue Committee and Anti-Recidivism Coalition — Glide is near and dear to her. Headquartered in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, the organization offers a range of services, such as free meals, child care, legal aid and health care.

A sequin tunic by Dubai brand OTT, featuring the visage of Nelson Mandela, jazzes up a simple pair of turquoise leggings. (Spencer Brown)

She was introduced to its husband-and-wife co-founders, Reverend Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, a dozen years ago. Since then, Horowitz has become a regular at the church’s Sunday celebrations, now led by Marvin K.White. And she has contributed her time and resources to various Glide programs, including volunteering to prepare and serve lunches. “By showing up, I let them know that they are seen and that somebody cares about them,” she says, adding that “Glide’s mission of unconditional love says that everyone deserves to be seen as individuals and that no one is left behind or left hungry, and that resonates with me deeply.”

Horowitz and her husband, Ben, co-founder of Menlo Park–based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, are sponsors of the Glide Annual Holiday Jam, its biggest fundraiser aside from the eBay auction for lunch with financier Warren Buffett (the most recent went for $4.57 million). Slated this year for November 14, “it’s an event that represents the joy of Glide,” says Horowitz of the rollicking gala

In his 2014 book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben recounts meeting his future wife on a blind date when they were in college. (His second book, What You Do Is Who You Are, comes out this month.) Early on in their relationship, she tells me, he was a bartender and she was working the graveyard shift for Brink’s. They wed in 1989, raised three kids, and have called Atherton home for the past 11 years. She jokes that the secret to their 30-year marriage is that “Ben knows how to cook his ass off,” giving a special shout-out to his grits and collard greens. He also expertly helms the grill during the backyard barbecues the couple has become well-known for hosting. (Mariah Carey, Gayle King, Sean Combs and Kim Kardashian West are among previous attendees.)

I first met Horowitz three years ago through a mutual friend who said, “You’re going to love her. She’s such a soulful person.” That descriptor, I’ve learned, is spot-on. During the Gazette photo shoot, I ask how one of her looks came together: white shirt by Shantanu & Nikhil, gold brocade vest by Maison Margiela and Rachael Cassar striped skirt plumped up by tulle; cotton stems adorn her hair. My question seems simple enough, but her answer is profoundly complex.

Horowitz uses cotton stems as embellishment — in her hair and in a makeshift ring — as
a way to “remix cotton,” a commodity closely linked to her family history. (Spencer Brown)

“Cotton remains a strong symbolic representation of when my ancestors were enslaved,” Horowitz explains. “Later, in the 1930s, my great-uncle, Roy, was kidnapped, shackled and forced to pick cotton at gunpoint. This horrible episode went on for half of his life, as they kept Uncle Roy locked in a barn during the night only to force him to pick cotton at gunpoint during the day. Finally, Uncle Roy dug his way out of the barn one night and made it home safely. You can imagine the fear that ran through my family for decades, knowing that could have been any of us.”

Understandably, the story stayed with her. “From this backdrop and knowledge,” she says, “as a young girl when I heard someone use the N-word, I always felt embarrassed and small. They didn’t even have to be talking about me. I felt dehumanized like my Uncle Roy being forced to pick cotton. But then starting in the late ’80s, some great young artists began to transform that word. They dropped the ‘er’ and added an ‘a’ and made it something to be proud of rather than embarrassed by.”

“Since hip-hop took the power back, nobody can make me feel small with that word or any word,” Horowitz continues. “That’s why I wanted to sprinkle myself in cotton and dress in the corresponding colonial-style outfit for the photo shoot. I wanted to remix cotton and change its meaning the way those brave artists changed the N-word.”

Indeed, flipping the narrative is a recurring theme for Horowitz. “That’s what all of my philanthropic work is about: helping people who feel ‘less-than’ feel proud,” she says. Through her work with Glide and elsewhere in the world — such as her travels with the American Jewish World Service to the Dominican Republic to visit a network of women confronting gender inequality and gender-based violence, or to India to meet with a group that helps empower girls through education — she strives to uplift the marginalized.

In June, Horowitz was further recognized for her efforts, receiving the Everyday People Award at the Wearable Art Gala, a benefit for the WACO Theater Center founded by Tina Knowles-Lawson and her husband, Richard. Also this year, Horowitz served as a judge for the Youth of the Year award given by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, another local organization she supports. “I believe everyone has potential,” she says, “and I do what I can to make sure that people with no opportunity get one.”

Glide Holiday Jam: Dare to Love

At this year’s benefit, dig into delectable fare from local restaurants while Grammy Award winner Lisa Fischer headlines a musical lineup that also includes the Glide Ensemble. glide.org. Thursday, November 14. The Masonic, 1111 California St., San Francisco. Doors open at 5:30p.m., concert starts at 7 p.m. General admission from $50; VIP tickets $1,000.

All looks conceptualized and styled by Felicia Horowitz, Tré Major, Tashiba Jones and Trenee Coleman. Shot at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco.

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