Johari Matthews was recently appointed Executive Director of the Northwest Family YMCA by the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. Johari is leading the center’s efforts to continue strengthening the Bordeaux community through healthy living and youth development programming.
“This opportunity means so much to me because I am a local Nashvillian, and, more importantly, I live in the community, and I am passionate about this area,” Johari said. “My husband and I have served in various roles in the community over the last ten years, and we are more than excited to be able to not only raise our family here but also to live, work, and play in the same area.”
Johari graduated from Tennessee State University with her B.S. in Psychology. She has spent 15 years with the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, including eight years with school-aged programming before moving to her previous role as Senior Program Director at the Margaret Maddox Family YMCA in East Nashville. She also served as the African American Resource Network Co-Chair for the YMCA of Middle Tennessee Employee Resource Groups. Johari is known for her exceptional leadership, willingness to serve, and infectious passion for her community.
In her personal endeavors she serves on various boards and committees including Corner to Corner, Renewal House, Humanity Theatre Project and Nashville Young Lives. She and her husband, Lonnell Matthews, Jr. have been married for seven years and have two beautiful children together.
“I am excited about sharing my vision with others, building a strong staff team, and being able to merge the amazing history of the center with what is to come in the near future,” she said. “This center means so much to so many people, and I am more than honored to be able to continue all of the great work that has been paved before me.”
The Northwest Family YMCA has a rich and varied history in the Bordeaux community. Prior to the racially turbulent 1960s, Nashville still had a Colored YMCA Association in the northern part of town. In 1966, this association merged with the newly-formed North Branch YMCA, located on North Jefferson Street, where staff and volunteers led arts programs and, in cooperation with Fisk University, began a recreational program at the Juvenile Detention Center. In the summer of 1969, the new facility opened and the site became a valuable resource for programs that taught inner-city youth to swim.
In the 1970s, the center continued its focus on youth development, operating a unique crime prevention program with numerous sites throughout North Nashville. In 1993, the YMCA Black Achievers Program originated at the renamed Northwest Family YMCA, allowing students to establish mentoring relationships with adults. The program later expanded and continues to operate throughout Middle Tennessee.
In a predominately African-American community, the Northwest Family YMCA remains successful in breaking down barriers and bringing all ages and races together. By providing financial assistance to approximately half of its members, the center serves as an accessible and trusted resource for people to learn, grown, and thrive.