The International African American Museum has named Tonya M. Matthews as the organization’s new top executive, the museum's board of directors said in an news release.
The IAAM’s board of directors said Matthews, who holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and an undergraduate degree from Duke University, is “an experienced executive, thought leader and educator” with a proven track record in organizational planning and program development.
Chairman Wilbur Johnson said the board of directors of the IAAM took their time to find someone with Matthews’ credentials and experience to ensure they found a CEO who would understand the role of the museum and the individuals who would be visiting.
“The infrastructure of any enterprise, in this case this amazing museum, is a vital component of the project and for that reason, we were really keen on finding someone who we thought could not only lead this project but also inspire the staff and the visitors and everyone who will be interested in this project,” he said. “So, we spent a fair amount of time trying to find that person who could be inspirational.”
Matthews founded the STEMinista Project, a national initiative to encourage middle-school girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Prior to coming to IAAM, she was associate provost of inclusive workforce development and director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Matthews previously served as vice president of museums for the Cincinnati Museum Center and acting director of inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums, managing a staff of 120 and more than 200 volunteers.
She also led a year-long program between the National Museums of Kenya and middle schools in the Cincinnati area. The program used research and funding from the U.S. State Department Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad Program to connect children at five schools across the world. Matthews said the program is one she hopes to bring to the International African American Museum.
The museum is under construction near Gadsden’s Wharf, along Charleston’s waterfront where tens of thousands of enslaved Africans were brought into America. The museum broke ground in 2019 with speakers from around the globe marking the occasion.
“I am excited to stand with the people of Charleston as we steward this sacred site and the often-silenced stories of American history — both the horrific and the victorious — that continue to challenge our efforts to create a more perfect union,” Matthews said. “This is a national story with global impact, and we look forward to engaging the critical partnerships and support that are needed to help us sustain this work.”