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Greenville Business Magazine

IAAM’s CEO awarded “The Legacy Award” by Black Women’s Agenda, Inc.

Sep 25, 2023 03:00PM ● By David Dykes

Tonya M. Matthews, Ph.D., president and CEO of the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, S.C., was selected by the Black Women’s Agenda, Inc. (BWA) for the 2023 Legacy Award, which is designed to honor and give tribute to “phenomenal” Black women, according to the organization.

The Legacy Award was presented at the BWA’s annual luncheon Sept. 22 in Washington, D.C., where 1,500 women from across the country gathered.

The annual luncheon, now in its 47th year, hosts members of Congress, local and federal officials, business leaders, and educators from across the country. Past recipients of the award include Maya Angelou, Dr. Dorothy Height, Shirley Sherrod, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Secretary Condoleezza Rice, and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Recognized as a thought-leader in social entrepreneurship, institutional equity, strategy, and the intersection of formal and informal education, Matthews is a writer and poet, and has had a storied career in nonprofit leadership for over a decade.

 “I am profoundly honored to be the recipient of the Legacy Award from The Black Women’s Agenda, Inc. The work of BWA has been a leading, powerful voice for women, illuminating paths towards education, health, and economic empowerment. This award is not just a recognition of my efforts, but a tribute to generations of Black women who have paved the way for Black women - and all members of every community - to continue to forge ahead. To be mentioned in the same breath as women of such stature as Maya Angelou, Dr. Dorothy Height, and the Honorable Kamala Harris is an honor beyond words,” Matthews said.

Matthews became president and CEO of the IAAM in April 2021, and since taking on that role has focused on inspiring her staff to enhance visitor and community engagement initiatives, and on telling the untold stories of the African American journey.

Over the past two years, her extensive leadership experience was instrumental in preparing for the museum’s grand opening, in late June 2023. Under her leadership, IAAM has become a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of African American history and thus is one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as America continues the walk toward “a more perfect union.”

Prior to her work with the IAAM, Matthews served as associate provost of Inclusive Workforce Development and as director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., and prior to that as president and CEO of the Michigan Science Center. 

There, in 2015, she founded The STEMinista Project, a ground-breaking, national initiative that inspires middle-school girls to consider tools and careers in STEM, and STEMinista Rising, which supports professional women in STEM – and the colleagues who champion them.

Matthews is widely recognized for her accomplishments and dedication to the community. She has been noted as one of the area’s Most Influential by Charleston Business Magazine twice (2022, 2023) and honored as Trailblazer by Career Mastered Magazine (2017). 

During her tenure as president and CEO of the Michigan Science Center, she was named one of the Most Influential Women in Michigan in 2016. She is a former member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education and was appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations to the National Assessment Governing Board. 

She has authored several articles and book chapters on inclusive board governance, nonprofit management, and fundraising. Additionally, Matthews is a published poet, with some of her poetry included in 100 Best African American Poems (2010), edited by Nikki Giovanni. Her most recent work, “How Weaving Came into The World,” was published in the January 2022 edition of the Charleston City Paper.

Matthews received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her bachelor’s degree in biomedical and electrical engineering from Duke University, along with a certificate in African and African American Studies. She has also been honored with an honorary doctorate from Central Michigan University for her career achievements and contributions.

Founded in 1977 in Washington, D.C., The Black Women’s Agenda, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(C)3 organization that generates awareness and support for issues that secure, protect, and advance the rights of Black women and their families. BWA is comprised of 24 National Collaborating Organizations -- sororities, civic, service and faith-based -- representing millions of women worldwide. For more information, visit

The International African American Museum (IAAM) explores the history, culture, and impact of the African American journey on Charleston, on the nation, and on the world, shining light and sharing stories of the diverse journeys, origin, and achievements of descendants of the African Diaspora.

Across 11 galleries and a memorial garden with art, objects, artifacts, and multi-media interaction, IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history. As a result, supporters say, the museum will stand as one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as it evolves today. 

The mission of IAAM is to honor the untold stories of the African American journey at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf and beyond. For more information, go to or call 843-872-5352.