BrightFocus Foundation

International African American Museum, BrightFocus Foundation Present Film Screening and Panel on Health Equity on Oct. 13

  • Press Release
Published on:
International African American Museum showcasing a courtyard with some palm trees and a walkway.

On Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, BrightFocus Foundation and the International African American Museum (IAAM) hosted "Small Miracles: A Promise Toward a Future of Health and Wellness," an in-person and live-streamed panel discussion. 

Watch Event Recording

About the Event  

Small Miracles: A Promise Toward a Future of Health and Wellness  
Friday, Oct. 13, 2023, 4:30 p.m. ET 

Equitable access to health care is essential to the sustainment of a thriving population. Many individuals within the Lowcountry—and millions across the nation—are continuously seeking ways to live healthier lives despite economic and sociocultural barriers.  

How are we improving health equity in the Lowcountry and beyond? What more do we need to improve physical and emotional well-being in our communities?   

Attendees joined IAAM President and CEO Dr. Tonya M. Matthews, BrightFocus President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller, and a panel of national experts for a short film screening and discussion on the tactics, strategies, and small miracles needed to "take care of our own" and reap the benefit of today's medical breakthroughs.  

Panelists included: 

  • Dr. Tonya M. Matthews, President & CEO, International African American Museum (moderator) 

  • Dr. Debra Tann, CEO, Reminiscent  

  • Nancy Lynn, Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, BrightFocus Foundation  

  • Dr. Marvella Elizabeth Ford, Associate Director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities, Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center 

Small Miracles: A Promise Toward a Future of Health and Wellness graphic with event details.


About the Panelists

About Dr. Tonya M. Matthews  

Dr. Tonya M. Matthews is a thought leader in institutionalized equity and inclusion frameworks, social entrepreneurship, and the intersectionality of formal and informal education. Her background as both poet and engineer has made her a highly sought-after visioning partner on boards and community-building projects, as well as a frequent public speaker and presenter for communities across all ages and venues. 

A nonprofit executive leadership veteran, Dr. Matthews is currently CEO of the International African American Museum (IAAM) located in Charleston, South Carolina, at the historically sacred site of Gadsden's Wharf. IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of 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."  

Dr. Matthews has a storied career in leadership. Most recently, she served as associate provost for inclusive workforce development and director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center for Wayne State University and, prior to that, as the president and CEO of the Michigan Science Center—flexing her science and tech educational equity chops in both roles. Dr. Matthews credits her time at Wayne State for a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of education, career, community agency, and self-efficacy, which she refers to as the "pre-K through gray" pipeline. While at the Michigan Science Center, she founded The STEMinista Project, a movement to engage girls in their future with STEM careers and tools. She continues this work today through STEMinista Rising, supporting professional women in STEM—and the colleagues who champion them—with an inclusive emphasis on women of color.  

Her dedication to the community and her accomplishments are widely recognized. She was noted as one of the Most Influential Women in Charleston (Charleston Business Magazine, 2021) and honored as a Trailblazer by Career Mastered Magazine (2017). She is a 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. Dr. Matthews is a published poet, included in 100 Best African American Poems (2010), edited by Nikki Giovanni, and has authored several articles and book chapters on inclusive governance, nonprofit management, and fundraising.

Dr. Matthews received her PhD in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her BSE in biomedical and electrical engineering from Duke University, alongside a certificate in African/African American studies. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Links. Dr. Matthews is a native of Washington, D.C., and, in each community she has settled in, she is known for planting roots on the side of town best known for keeping an eye on progress.  

About Dr. Debra Tann  

Dr. Debra Tann is originally from Sacramento, California, but refers to Valdosta, Georgia, as her home. Dr. Tann has more than 30 years of educational experience. She began her career in higher education teaching political science at the community college and university levels. After many years in higher education, Dr. Tann launched Genesis Christian School, where she was at the helm for 14 years.  

Dr. Tann began her current educational chapter as a Certified Dementia Educator and nationally certified Virtual Dementia Tour coach. She currently works at the local level as the CEO of Reminiscent, a brain health organization. At the state level, Dr. Tann is a collaborator for the Georgia Alzheimer's and Related Dementias (GARD) Collaborative. At the national level, she is a congressional team member assigned to Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) for the Alzheimer's Impact Movement (AIM). She is a champion for the ENACT Act, aimed at increasing the participation of underrepresented populations in dementia clinical trials, which is making its way through Congress.  

Dr. Tann is moving the needle in rural south Georgia by conducting quarterly dementia and brain health education events. She is a strong advocate for caregivers, debunking myths associated with dementia and erasing stigma and misunderstanding around dementia. Moreover, Dr. Tann is working tirelessly to eradicate health care disparities as they relate to diagnosis rates, access to early treatment, quality care, clinical research, and trial participation rates among Blacks and Latinos.   

Dr. Tann is a lecturer at Georgia State University's gerontology department and serves on the clinical research team, which is conducting research in Alzheimer's with an emphasis on the prevention of slips, trips, and falls. Dr. Tann is also a published author on dementia. Her book, The Race of Dementia, is currently used in the nursing program at Texas Christian University and Georgia State University's gerontology department. She also facilitates an online support group designed for caregivers and hosts a local monthly Memory Café for those living with memory loss. Dr. Tann is a national and international speaker and a trained Memory Care Screener. She serves on the board of directors for Dementia Action Alliance.  

In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling domestically and internationally, and studying the Bible, and she loves to celebrate the arts. Dr. Tann volunteers her time with community projects, as she is a firm believer in servant leadership.  

About Nancy Lynn  

Nancy Lynn is senior vice president of strategic partnerships at BrightFocus Foundation, a US 501(c)(3) that funds exceptional research worldwide to defeat Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma and provides expert information on these diseases.  

Prior, Ms. Lynn held positions including executive director and CEO at the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, director of global business development at the American Museum of Natural History, and staff lecturer at the Met Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.  

She also catalyzes financing, distribution, and impact partnerships for disease-related documentaries. These include the award-winning Glen Campbell … I'll Be Me (2014), Turning Point: The Quest for a Cure (2017), Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (2019), Remembering Gene Wilder (2023), Valdosta (2023), and Unforgettable (2024), featuring Lauren Miller Rogen and Seth Rogen.  

Ms. Lynn is a former member of the national board of trustees for Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America and of the board of trustees for the Martha Graham Dance Company. She received her BA in the history of art and architecture from Columbia University (valedictorian) and her MA in the history of art and architecture from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.  

About Dr. Marvella Elizabeth Ford 

Dr. Marvella Elizabeth Ford received her MSW, MS, PhD, and postdoctoral training at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she was awarded pre- and postdoctoral fellowships from the National Institute on Aging. Subsequently, she held faculty positions at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and Baylor College of Medicine before coming to Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston. Her training in the social determinants of health affecting disease and its treatment has uniquely positioned her to take a leading role in tackling a distressing and incompletely understood public health problem in the state: the fact that societal differences in the population can lead to markedly different health outcomes for members of diverse racial and ethnic groups. 
An overarching goal of Dr. Ford's current research is to identify and address the disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment success due to race, geography, and other contextual and/or socioeconomic factors. To that end, she is the leader on several projects examining behavioral and community engagement factors affecting resource utilization, access to care and clinical trial recruitment, and retention of members of underserved populations in the state. Understanding of these factors in turn informs her other efforts to help design and disseminate effective strategies for enhancing patient education and decision-making between underserved patients and their care providers. 

Dr. Ford recently completed an NCI R21 study with Drs. Jane Zapka and Katie Sterba, "Optimizing Survivorship and Surveillance After Treatment for Colorectal Cancer." This study examined the role of personal, provider, and practice-level factors on colorectal cancer (CRC) survivor care surveillance experiences and outcomes. A telephone survey, informed by the Chronic Care Model, was conducted over a yearlong period with 150 CRC survivors identified via the South Carolina Central Cancer Registry. This was one of the first studies to evaluate CRC surveillance in a socioeconomically diverse sample. The only associations found among the examined factors and adherence were related to type of health insurance coverage. Participants with private/HMO health insurance were significantly more likely than participants with "other" health insurance coverage types (i.e., none, Medicare without supplement, Medicare with supplement) to be adherent to the 13-month colonoscopy. Therefore, future education strategies and patient navigation interventions could focus on identifying and overcoming multilevel barriers to CRC surveillance services. 
In her other research projects, Dr. Ford applies her public health expertise toward the definition of population-specific and innate genetic, metabolic, and physiologic factors that determine cancer diagnosis, progression, and treatment outcomes. Working with Dr. David P. Turner, these latter studies include the study of a specific set of inflammatory nutritional metabolites known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Exploring the linkage between population-specific and differential AGE levels as a possible contributor to disparate outcomes is a focal point of the translational NIH/NCI-funded U54 Cancer Disparities Research Center (SC CADRE) co-led by Dr. Ford at MUSC and by Dr. Judith D. Salley at South Carolina State University. 

About the International African American Museum  

The International African American Museum tells the story of a journey that began more than 300 years ago when enslaved Africans were first taken from West Africa to our young nation. Almost half of them arrived at a single port: Charleston, South Carolina. Gadsden's Wharf was the primary point of arrival. It is the site for this museum that will tell the story of this journey: the passage, cruelty, hardship, joy, and achievement. A Center for Family History will enable visitors to trace their genealogy. A comprehensive education program will provide lifelong learning, and there will be changing exhibitions and special events throughout the year.    

About BrightFocus Foundation  

BrightFocus Foundation, through its flagship programs Alzheimer's Disease Research, Macular Degeneration Research, and National Glaucoma Research, is on a mission to stop Alzheimer's and vision loss in its tracks. The Foundation has awarded nearly $290 million in global research funding over the past 50 years, catalyzing thousands of life-enhancing scientific breakthroughs. BrightFocus provides free expert bilingual public resources to increase awareness of the latest findings on eye and brain diseases.  

Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma affect more than 300 million people worldwide—1 in 7 people over age 40 in the U.S.—and disproportionately affect communities of color. BrightFocus is committed to investing in bold research that generates novel approaches, diagnostic tools, and treatments that serve all populations. Learn more at

Don't miss out.

Receive breakthrough news, research updates, and inspiring stories on the search for a cure for diseases of mind and sight.