A native Nashvillian and graduate of Tennessee State University, Johari Matthews has spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector — first exercising her leadership skills with the YMCA of Middle TN, then landing her current position as Vice President and Executive Director of the Tennessee Titans Foundation. A liaison for community initiatives and nonprofit partnerships, she’s growing the foundation’s outreach and fostering diversity and inclusivity. She’s also co-chairing the renowned Nashville Public Library Foundation 2023 Literary Award Weekend in early November! Get to know this week’s FACE of Nashville!
What was your upbringing like?
I am a native Nashvillian and grew up in the Woodbine area in South Nashville. Very similar to how it is now, Woodbine was a very diverse part of town that included many different cultures and ethnicities, so I always like to say that my childhood was full of diversity and has always embodied cultural inclusivity. My parents divorced when I was younger, so I spent a lot of time between both households, as my father lived in the Bordeaux area.
My parents did an incredible job exposing me and my siblings to different environments, creating adventures that allowed us to see beyond our neighborhood, and introducing us to people who didn’t necessarily look like us but shared common values. Neither of my parents is originally from Nashville, and they created a village full of caring individuals who also helped to create some lifelong memories. I think that is what truly drives my passion for serving people and working within the community to this day.
What led to you serving as Vice President and Executive Director of the Tennessee Titans Foundation?
To be honest, I never envisioned working in sports because I never knew I could. But I know now that it is a big part of my purpose and has allowed me to bring together things that I am passionate about and the things that I love (sports, people, and service) to truly become a dream role that I am blessed to live daily.
Before joining the Tennessee Titans, I spent 18+ years with the YMCA of Middle TN. Through various leadership roles, I found that I loved serving communities, thoroughly enjoyed providing resources for individuals and families, and have a unique skill set in finding solutions and leading others. My work in nonprofits over the years has prepared me for such a major role as this.
What does your role with the Tennessee Titans Foundation entail?
I serve as the primary liaison for community and nonprofit partnerships. Every day, I am tasked with executing NFL community-centered initiatives and enhancing the Titans’ commitment to service across Middle TN. As my CEO likes to say, I start every day thinking about corporate social responsibility, community impact, and external affairs to better bridge and strengthen our involvement and commitment to Middle TN. This includes newly implemented community benefit programs directly impacting underrepresented and marginalized individuals, families, and youth.
Tell us about your involvement with the Nashville Public Library, and what inspired you to work with them.
On a personal level, I live in Nashville, so the Nashville Public Library is a place I have not only visited since I was a child, but now it is a place where I take my own kids. My children love visiting the library, and I have seen the variety of roles that the Nashville Public Library can serve for a community and oftentimes, the gaps that it can fill — everything from a place to learn and have access to a voting location to the place where my daughter’s Girl Scout troop meets.
Needless to say, my involvement extends beyond just serving as a co-chair and started a very long time ago. As a volunteer, it started in 2022 when my husband and I chaired the Family Picnic on behalf of the NPLF and were then honored to have been asked to co-chair the NPLF Literary Gala in 2023.
You’re acting as a co-chair for the upcoming 2023 Literary Award Weekend in November. What can we expect from that event?
This year, the beloved Public Lecture will not only feature a conversation between our honoree, Kate DiCamillo, and Nashville’s own Ann Patchett, but we are excited to premiere a new Wishing Chair Productions puppet show based on the book La, La, La by Ms. DiCamillo. Following the lecture, the puppet show will be added to NPL’s repertoire so children can enjoy it for years to come.
Saturday evening, patrons will enjoy the grandeur of the Gala. A VIP cocktail reception in the children’s department and a puppet show screening will kick off the event. Attendees will enjoy dinner in the grand reading room with remarks by Ms. DiCamillo and a glass of champagne.
Additionally, our most loyal supporters will receive an invitation to a private gathering on Friday night designed for meaningful conversation and more personal engagement with our honoree.
The Nashville Public Library Foundation is honoring a children’s author during the Literary Award Weekend for the first time. What inspired that initiative?
Honoring one of the foremost living authors of children’s literature enables us to celebrate early literacy in Nashville. In the coming months and years, NPLF anticipates big conversations led by Nashville Public Library about this critical issue and important library programmatic focus.
Ms. DiCamillo’s books, while created for children, consist of grand stories, beautifully written, that resonate across generations. They inspire through the triumph of love and courage and offer something to readers of all ages, reaching for light in an often dark and challenging world.
One key early literacy skill is simply to foster a love of stories. Kate DiCamillo is a perfect ambassador for that effort. Judging by the enthusiastic response we’ve had for Public Lecture registrations, Nashville agrees!
You’re a busy woman! When you aren’t working, how do you practice self-care?
I actually like to travel – A LOT. For some people, self-care looks like massages, spa days, etc. But I love to take a trip where I can escape from it all while exploring a new city or country. I like to travel a few times throughout the year, which builds momentum and excitement and gives me something to look forward to every few months.
Since I was a child, I have always loved the airport, and it tends to be my happy place. I love to people-watch at the airport and wonder where people are traveling to. Again, it is an escape and an adventure. The hard part is the return, which is why I tend to start planning for the next trip while on the plane from the current trip! In addition to travel, I also like reading a good book, attending live music shows, and being around those in my circle that I know will give me a good belly laugh until my cheeks hurt.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I have two! One, “Treating someone with kindness doesn’t cost you anything.” And two, “Always choose impact over ego in making any decision and how you show up for others and yourself.”
Outside of faith, family, and friends, what three things can’t you live without?
Beyoncé, sweets, and my passport.
What was your last memorable meal at a local restaurant, and where were you? Plane Jane is the restaurant. The food is delicious, the drinks are really good, and the ambiance is even better!
What’s on your bedside table? A book (It Ends with Us), my Apple watch/iPhone, and a gratitude journal.
If you could be stuck in an elevator with anyone, who would it be? My husband!
What’s the top destination on your travel bucket list? Spain
What is the first book you read as a child? Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
What is your favorite book of all time? A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
Meet more dynamic and inspiring Southern women in our FACES archives!