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Gantt Center adds homegrown executive Sophia Partlow
'Artistic pathway' started at former Afro Center
Published Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:00 am
by Ashley Mahoney

Charlotte native Sophia Mathews Partlow is the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture's vice president for communications and technology innovation.

December is a homecoming of sorts for Sophia Matthews Partlow.

The Charlotte native grew up attending camps at the Afro-American Cultural Center in First Ward, which moved to Second Ward in 2009 to a new facility and is now the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

She assumed the role of vice president, communications and technology innovation at Gantt Center on Dec. 1.

“I credit the Afro-American Cultural Center with putting me down my artistic pathway,” Partlow said. “I did a mural in high school and paintings that won state awards, and all of that came from classes I took and lessons I had from the Afro-American Cultural Center. It was amazing to see them grow with me in that as I continued on in my creative space with marketing and graphic design, and to see them move into a beautiful new building and continue to grow and become more modern and professional like I did was really nice.

“To come full circle back to this organization that did so much to shape me is incredible.”

Partlow, an Independence High School alumna, has been involved with Charlotte’s creative scene for years. Her time at the Afro-American Cultural Center included jazz band, which inspired her to continue with music.

“Even after I got out of school, I still continued with rap music and singing,” she said.

Partlow previously spent seven years with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, most recently as director of digital outreach. Then she decided to job hunt during a pandemic, which she questioned herself. Yet Partlow felt her skills and education – a bachelor’s degree in marketing and master’s in informatics from UNC Charlotte – could be better utilized than they were at CMS.

She saw an opening at the Gantt Center for a marketing director, which is what she initially applied for, but when center leaders saw her resume, they thought she would also be a good fit for technology innovation based on her experience with data science and analytics. However, Partlow’s heart was in marketing.

After three interviews for the marketing position, Partlow underwent additional interviews for the technology role as well.

“Basically, I interviewed for two jobs,” Partlow said, laughing. “I am very happy they felt confident that I could maintain both responsibilities and that is when they decided to put the two jobs together. It’s been phenomenal thus far.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced cultural institutions like the Gantt Center to close for months, leaving them to explore new ways to create engagement in virtual spaces. The Gantt leveraged digital media to engage and inform the Black community as it was hit harder by the disease economically and physically by introducing a series called “Unmasked” on YouTube live. They took the same approach when civil unrest spread across Charlotte over the summer in response to police brutality. The Gantt Center is open again, but Partlow’s role will encompass navigating the lingering ramifications of the pandemic.

“They are in a place where they are looking to ensure that they are prepared for the things that are coming,” she said. “Even though we have vaccines coming out, it might still be a very long time in which we have to operate digitally and virtually. They felt it was really important to not only be able to navigate that space very proficiently, but they wanted to also again be prepared for the future.”

Partlow will focus on helping the Gantt expand its reach as a community, corporate and educational space. She is focusing on programs to start, and one goal is to create a discussion board for parents raising Black children to foster a sense of community, while also creating a captive audience.

“Whether you are Black yourself or not, it really does not matter,” Partlow said. “How do we create a village around all of our Black children and see how we can better support them through better parenting and more involved parenting. You will have a resource to see how other parents are navigating parenting.”

Partlow hopes that the Gantt Center will off the same opportunities to create a sense of love and appreciation for the arts in her daughter, Cloud, whom she and her husband Chris are in the process of formally adopting. They have been her foster parents since she was two days old.

“I would love it if she had opportunities to come and meet other kids,” Partlow said. “As the discussion group gets off the ground, that could be like a set playgroup for her.”
She is also working on her debut novel, “Fractured,” with the intention of turning it into a five-book series. The genre is science fiction, and the series is intended for adults. The goal is to finish the first book before 2022.

“I feel like I have a really good pedigree when it comes to writing,” said Partlow, whose mother Marie Worsley Matthews is a published poet and English teacher at Independence High School.

Partlow’s younger brother, Chris Matthews, is  author of “Finding Your Relationship Fix.” Older brother Dazzell Matthews is a videographer in New York who worked with filmmaker Spike Lee.

In addition to coming from a family of creatives, Partlow’s grandfather is Charlotte Civil Rights activist Reverend William Worsley, Jr., who served at First Presbyterian on Seventh Street for decades. Her grandfather was also a Marine during World War II, which was segregated at that time. He served with the Montford Point Marines, who received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011 from former president Barack Obama.

“Nobody ever really let you know just how much he had done, just because of the type of people they are—they are so humble,” Partlow said.

Partlow recalled reaching out to her friend Sonja Gantt, executive director of the CMS Foundation and daughter to Charlotte’s first Black Mayor Harvey Gantt, for whom the Gantt Center is named. Sonja Gantt’s experience was the same—her father was also the first Black student to attend Clemson University.

“Because of their nature, you end up learning about them from other folks or outside people, and that is exactly what it was like growing up in my house too,” Partlow said. “It puts an onus on me to carry that mantle a little bit, and to have the same level of care and stewardship of the works they have done. At the same time, it is hard to get that story from them. I am really excited to maybe meet Harvey Gantt one day and try to make some sort of effort so that when you walk into the Gantt Center, that’s the first thing you see, is who is this building named after and why?”

On the Net:



Congratulations Mrs. Partlow!I have known her and her outstanding family since 1989. She is a Winner!
Posted on January 8, 2021

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