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AAHC Forum: Leadership Succession Planning at the John G. Riley Center/Museum Places Baton in the hands of the Next Generation

December 13, 2012

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Marion McGee
Assistant Director, John Gilmore Riley Center/Museum of African American History & Culture

Once Mrs. Althemese Barnes, founder and executive director of the John G. Riley House & Museum, determined that she was ready to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders, a concerted effort to plan for her succession began. The process took about three years, during which Mrs. Barnes sought the advice of board members, staff, and industry professionals to identify the qualifications needed in a new director. I was thrilled when she and the board decided that my organizational expertise and my passion for history and community made me the right candidate to succeed her.

Marion McGee & Althemese Barnes pictured in front of the John Gilmore Riley Historic House Museum in Tallahassee, Florida.

The Riley Museum wanted to avoid the jarring transition that usually takes place when the incoming leader starts work just before or even after the incumbent is out the door. With funding from the IMLS Museum Grants for African American History and Culture program, the museum began an executive apprenticeship program. I began shadowing Mrs. Barnes in May 2011, gradually taking on more day-to-day responsibilities and further developing my own leadership style. I gained experience through hands-on training opportunities that have included coalition and collaborative partnership building, marketing, technology enhancement, communications systems, event planning, research, product development, and direct support of the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network.

Working alongside Mrs. Barnes, I have learned firsthand the value of creative collaboration and open communication for effectively managing internal and external relationships. She has fostered an environment in which candid and respectful debate can occur, allowing me to implement new ideas to enhance our annual fundraising events, capital campaign, and online presence through the website redesign and establishment of various social media platforms.

Mrs. Barnes also recommended me as a participant of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders in Salzburg, Austria, and strongly encouraged me to attend. Convened jointly by National Arts Strategies (NAS) and the Salzburg Global Seminar, the six-day forum plunged young leaders from around the world into discussion; debate; and the development of strategic approaches to public policy creation, community engagement, and the preservation of the world's cultural and artistic treasures in the digital age. The forum was one of many ways Mrs. Barnes has found to expose me to new and challenging experiences that expand my perspective and encourage my contribution. It is amazing to think that this journey began nearly two years ago and in that short time I have already seen and done so much more than I ever imagined. As an apprentice, I have had the honor of learning how to further the mission of the organization directly from the founder, who also happens to be one of the greatest leaders in the field. I will work hard to ensure that the proverbial baton is not only passed but upheld, enhanced, and preserved for generations to come.

Salzburg, Austria – Cable Car Ride. L to R: Eyad Houssami (Beirut, Lebanon), Lillie Geissendorfer (London, England), Niyati Mehta (Mumbai, India), Marion McGee (Tallahassee, Florida) and Mikel Ellcessor (Detroit, Michigan)

Marion McGee is the Assistant Director of the John Gilmore Riley Center/Museum of African American History & Culture in Tallahassee, Florida. Her area of expertise is management and organizational development through strategic planning. She takes pride in providing leadership and collaboration through active involvement with staff, stakeholders, and affiliates, in accordance with industry standards and professional practices, while providing the latitude to be creative and bring new ideas and concepts to the organization. Marion received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management and a Master of Business Administration degree from the Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. For more information regarding the John G. Riley Center/Museum please send email inquiries to or call (850) 681-7881.

Museum Grants for African American History and Culture
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture