The Brooklyn Children’s Museum made history on Wednesday as they announced their new Chief Executive Officer.
Atiba T. Edwards will step up as the museum’s new president and CEO — making him the first Black male to take the reins of the org as far back as the museum can recall. Edwards is taking the position after serving on the team as chief operating officer and executive vice president for BCM since 2019.
His family hails from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, however, the CEO was raised in Brownsville. Edwards recalled visiting the museum himself as a child, and said he is now privileged to lead the same institution that sparked his love for learning and curiosity.
“Being at the helm of this storied institution as the first Children’s Museum in the world comes with a lot of excitement, a lot of expectation, a lot of opportunity, a lot of challenges,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “To me, it’s just really a blessing in many ways to come full circle to a place that I grew up coming to as a child and was very formidable in my early years that helped me create this path of continuous curiosity.”
Edwards’ resume boasts of career experience throughout various field. He left the city in 2001 to study engineering, poetry and musicology at the University of Michigan, and began his professional career working as a fixed income research analyst at JPMorgan’s Investment Bank, where he focused on the automotive sector. He continued to work in finance for six years before he became director of operations at Brooklyn East Collegiate and co-founded FOKUS, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting and building communities through the arts.
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum — the world’s first children’s museum, created in 1899 — is nearing its 125th anniversary — an accomplishment made possible because of the great leaders who have steered it before, according to Edwards. As he assumes his new role at BCM, he said he is looking to install a strong foundation for the center’s next 125 years.
“Building upon that foundation of beautiful memories to ensure that many people across Brooklyn and across the city and even further know we are an institution that they should add to their list when they are in town,” he said. “Just spending some time at this place to see that curiosity helps spark the future.”
Amanda Sue Nichols, chair of the board of trustees of BCM, shared her excitement about having Edwards on board.
“Atiba has been a central player in the Museum’s success over the last four years, and was instrumental in guiding the museum through the Covid-19 pandemic,” Nichols said in a statement. “Atiba’s outstanding leadership during his time as Acting CEO and his proven dedication to the museum’s mission and the communities we serve make us confident that he is the right person to lead the Brooklyn Children’s Museum into the future.”
Black leaders have stepped up in Brooklyn over the last few years, Edwards said, and he wants to use his position to reconnect the neighborhood and ensure everyone knows they have a place at the Crown Heights museum.
“It’s also a source of pride for myself and for my family and for so many people,” he said. “For many people, seeing a Black president opens up the realm of what they can do. It’s not necessarily being a president, it’s just inspiration for them to think a bit different about what their path might be.”
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum seeks to ignite the exploration and growth of young minds through hands on arts and science exhibits, visual arts, music and performances, natural science, and world cultures. The facility, located at 145 Brooklyn Ave., hosts daily events and programs for young Brooklynites and tourists — with permanent installations like “World Brooklyn,” where kids can explore a child-sized city and take on different roles — and visiting exhibits, like “Opposites Abstract: A Mo Willems Exhibit.”
Edwards took over as acting president and CEO in mid-August, when former leader Stephanie Hill Wilchfort departed the museum. He is expected to assume his leadership role immediately.
“The youth look up to the adults to help path and plan their future and as they see a wider array of adults and a wider array of who is working where, what they consider for the future really expands,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “So I’m happy to now add a black male CEO as a potential path for them.”