Heritage Salon Spotlight: Dr. Ashley Jordan

Dr. Ashley Jordan, President & CEO, African American Museum in Philadelphia

Dr. Ashley Jordan is the latest museum leader that has shaken the African American museum field. She is a young, vibrant museum professional with the knowledge, museum background, and passion for leading one of the top museums in our field, the African American Museum in Philadelphia. I was thrilled when I read the news that this African American woman (who is also my sorority sister) was heading to lead a monumental museum in my birthplace of Philadelphia. Jordan’s new role is one of the visions I pictured in 2009 when I desired to see more young, African American MUSEUM professionals leading our institutions.

I spent a few minutes speaking to Dr. Jordan a couple of months ago and asked her some questions about her new role, what legacy she hopes to establish, and what makes her excited about Mondays. 

5 Quick Questions with Dr. Ashley Jordan

How does it feel to be a young, African American female and museum professional in a C-Suite position of one of the first museums of the Black Museum Movement?

 I am still very much so awe-struck about my current role as President and CEO for the African American Museum in Philadelphia. I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity to serve. My inspiration for serving in this role comes from our great leaders in history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was 26 years old when he successfully led the Montgomery Bus Boycott that led to the desegregation of public transportation in Alabama. To date, this boycott is the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. Additionally, Harriett Tubman, one of the most famous female conductors on the Underground Railroad began these heroine escapes before she was 30 years old. These testimonials are just a few of these history-making trailblazers, but their stories were done so to provide the next generation a future. I am a part of their legacy. Although I am a young female working within a C-Suite position…I don’t feel like the road that I am on is as less traveled, because of their sacrifice/hard work. I am just building off a framework that was already there. In return, I work to do my part so that the next person behind me can take this torch and carry the mantle further.

When did you realize your desire to hold a leadership position in an African American museum?

My desire to become a museum leader was sparked because I had a bad museum leader! That horrible experience, sparked the change within myself to be the change that I wanted to see within cultural institutions. The moment I began to actively participate in my strategic career goals…I felt like things weren’t just happening to me, but were happening for me. When I first entered the field, it wasn’t uncommon to see people at museum sites for 10+ years. Anyone thought to be advancing themselves too soon was seen as a career hopper. And unfortunately, the negative perceptions were being circulated through the office by the veterans who sometimes were disgruntled about their own lack of internal advancement. I am a team player, but I couldn’t allow the internal workplace dynamics to stall my career aspirations. My favorite quote by Booker T. Washington states, “success waits patiently for anyone who has the determination and strength to seize it.” As a student of my craft, I was constantly studying my work. I joined affinity clubs to be around other like-minded individuals for peer-to-peer growth. Additionally, I sought out mentors in the field that I wanted to mirror my professional aspirations after. My graduate school advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Clark-Lewis (Howard University) told me if there is a person in the field that you aspire to be check out their resume. My hero in the field is Dr. Lonnie Bunch (Secretary of the Smithsonian). At the time the museum in the mall had not opened just yet, but I googled his resume. I saw the rich diversity in his skillset from their various museums and it was at that moment I had an epiphany…“if I am going to be a museum leader…I won’t get there by just being at one site.” I need to have a resume that shows depth in museum size as well as city location. From there I made the decision to seek advancement and it’s been the best decision of my life.

What are three things you envision for the future of Black Museums?

  1. Financial Sustainability for all Black Museums
  • Utilize virtual platforms to create more satellite programming for bi-costal or regional experiences for sister institutions about African American History.
  • Professional Development Funding Increased – so that All Staff members will be able attend the Association of African American Museums Conference. I believe that all museums associated with telling the stories of African American history and culture should look at this conference as the pilgrimage to mecca!

What legacy do you hope to establish while working with the African American Museum in Philadelphia?

I hope that my legacy at the African American Museum in Philadelphia is to provide revolutionary and transformative experiences that educated and inspired visitors about African American history and culture. Additionally, we were able to provide diversifying income streams for continued financial growth and lastly, we built a team that felt empowered and supported to do the work!

What makes you excited about Monday?

I look forward to Monday mornings because my job doesn’t feel like work. It is a blessing to be able to work within my passion. To best understand my feelings, I am reminded of a quote by the late great, Chadwick A. Boseman, “you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. The purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on this planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill…the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” Not every day runs as smoothly, but because of my past experiences from other sites, I am able to think through these challenges so that they can be opportunities for growth. Overall, this moment would not be complete without the guidance and love of family members, friends, mentors, and work colleagues. Having the right support system coupled with my skill set helps to lighten the load. All of these components make it possible for me to get the work done and love what I do!

Dr. Ashley Jordan is the President & CEO at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Prior to her appointment, she held the position of Executive Director for the Evansville African American Museum in Evansville, Indiana. In 2017, Dr. Jordan graduated from Howard University with a doctorate in United States History. She completed her undergraduate studies at Kent State University graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in political science in 2008.

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