Plano West Senior & Girl Scout to Uncover Hidden History
Sparking her curiosity to uncover local Black history in Plano was something that Zara Jones, a high school senior at Plano West and Senior Girl Scout for Troop 3461 has been carrying for years.
She was so inspired after meeting the Kinseys'; on the last day of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit held in 2018 at the ArtCentre of Plano which contained The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection (a private collection celebrating the achievements & contributions of Black Americans from 1595 to present times. The collection is considered as one of the most comprehensive private surveys of African-American history and culture outside the Smithsonian Institution.) It was on that very day during her visit that she "experienced history for the first time".
What really moved Zara to do more is when the Kinsey's spent time with her at the exhibit before it wrapped up. "I remember Mr. Khalil telling my brother and me that as long as we were curious about history, we would always uncover and explore more just like he did", which was the exact same way a young Khalil sparked his very own curiosity which then inspired his parents, Bernard and Shirley to collect, learn, share, and appreciate history many people never knew existed.
Zara goes on to explain how her curiosity for history made her want to learn more, even before her visit to the Art Centre, "my mom was a volunteer docent for the exhibit and I would learn and research with her the very topics she would share with museum-goers. I was excited to learn about the exhibits by understanding the stories behind them".
Zara received support from the Plano African - American Museum to bring the museum online (the museum has been closed to the public for years), she received support from the Douglass Visions Committee (a community-based organization that focuses on empowerment efforts and outreach services which is founded and operated by the Founding Black Families of Plano).
Her Gold Award project deliverables are:
Create an organized online museum to help showcase the Plano African American Museum time capsule collection
Create a mix-media online exhibit that would help all students, including students with accessibility needs (like low hearing, audio, visual or physical needs) to learn more inclusively by having an online self-paced source for Black history
Research, connect-the-dots, discover, learn, teach and share local and national Black history
Create interactive activities for collections and exhibits to spark curiosity
Create a repeatable, online website framework for future museums to use that will serve as a blueprint for other communities that are underrepresented to create online museums too!
Combat the Myth of Absence together as a community in Plano by centralizing local Black history and accomplishments of Black citizens
Make it easier to help students and families find local Black history
As the pandemic hit during her junior year in high school, Zara knew she had to mobilize the Plano African American Museum quickly by bringing the existing exhibit online while also uncovering additional Black History. Through her 7-month project, Zara embarked on a journey to centralize, categorize, sort, and connect the dots of history. She faced many challenges in trying to locate and curate history, and there were some days that would lead to a dead end. Still, she persevered and was able to gather resources from Plano Public Library, Heritage Farmstead Museum, The Kinsey Collection, The New York Public Library, local newspapers & magazines to locate pieces of history, firsthand experiences shared by the Founding Black families of Plano and other resources from historians and elders of the community to create a rich exhibit for everyone to experience.
Although the groundwork was challenging at times because there was so much undocumented, inconsistent, and uncovered history, the stories passed down by the Stimpson, Drake, and Thomas families helped paint a picture of two communities that coexisted together long before the rest of the United States started to integrate. By connecting the dots of history, reconstructing timelines, and looking at history from a different point of view, Zara also helped illustrate patterns between local history & national events. The online museum has 6 collections and over 35 exhibits to visit. Each exhibit has unique topics, interactive activities, and resources to help museum visitors connect with the topic and learn more on their own.
As a person with low hearing, Zara also wanted to support students like her that require special accessibility assistance by including videos, audio, and text with in-home activities to help students deeply understand, celebrate and share the contributions of local history.
"I really hope that this project will inspire other students to take action by helping to uncover, surface, and share the contributions of all people that have paved the pathway for us".
Her Gold Award project not only focuses on local Black history by uncovering the contributions of the Founding Black Families of Plano and the Historic Douglass Community, but it also dives into other inclusion practices like ensuring all students with accessibility needs are part of the learning process and also creating a repeatable framework for other communities to create their own online museums to help uncover and fill in the gaps of history.
Zara who is also a 3x published author, podcast host, teen entrepreneur, and Lifestyle Blogger paused her efforts in these areas to fully dedicate herself to her Girl Scout Gold Award project because she felt it was the most meaningful project she has ever had a chance to work on. Using the skills she acquired as a professional Blogger, working alongside her parents as a pre-apprentice electrician helped her with her communication skills because she could decode complex terms into simpler ways to communicate helped her feel confident that she had all the tools and experience to make the online museum. She even took on a volunteer role with Dallas Professional Women as the Content Curator so that other women professionals can rate her writing skills because the Gold Award required lots of writing. With every minute dedicated to being a Senior at Plano West high school, she also learned the process of project management & time management by focusing on school, writing college essays for grants to secure college scholarships, and learning how to interact with adults and the project team members.
"I'm so thankful to my mentors that guided me along the way. I feel confident that I can help in many ways, and that the experience of a young teenage entrepreneur helped me push through obstacles that I've pushed through before! This project gave me a chance to sharpen my skills for time management and project management. I had fun learning how to interview, learning how to use new tools and the guidance of strong mentors from the Girl Scouts team. On days that I was way to hard on myself, my parents would remind me that I'm still a kid, although the project was pretty large!"
Zara compiled historical, contemporary, and modern history from several different sources from across the nation. With the help of her mentors and local historians, she read over 120 pieces of literature, visited hundreds of websites, and started to create a timeline of events and patterns that occurred nationally and impacted local cities like Plano.
"The best part of the project was learning about history - and feeling like I was a detective...discovering the rich history of the contributions of all people make me hopeful that we can combat the myth of absence together as a community, starting right here in Plano! "
02/17/2021 6 PM - Virtual Exhibit Preview (a private exhibit screening for supporters, volunteers & everyone that helped behind the scenes)
02/20/2020 - Official Exhibit Launch
About the Museum:
The Plano African American online museum will be a compilation of contemporary, historical, and modern history. We encourage you to read through all exhibits with an open mind, open heart, and willingness to learn. As you explore each exhibit, we hope you can help us collectively combat the Myth of Absence - a theory that states if we aren't talking about it, then "it" never happened. We know for sure that African - Americans helped to build, construct, develop, and maintain this great nation starting locally in our very own cities. Let's start talking, sharing, and spotlighting the contributions so that we can appreciate how far we have come as a community, and as a nation. All content on the site is safe for students, and we encourage you to visit us frequently for more additions to our existing exhibits. We have tons of history to share! We hope you leave each visit with us inspired and ready to share with your circle of influence. The museum reminds visitors that Black History Is American History, and celebrating the accomplishments of all Americans is what makes our country the best in the world! Let's grow together and learn more from one another!
Founding Families: First-hand experiences and interviews from the Founding Families
HERitage: Historical, Modern, and Contemporary contributions of African - American women
Trailblazers: African - Americans in North Texas that were pioneers in their professional, civic or social roles in the community
Influencers: Ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things to help improve the lives of African - Americans
Disrupters: People, events & movements that made a significant impact by addressing civil rights, liberty, and equality issues
PAAM: Artifacts from the Plano African American Museum located in the Douglass Community
A Note From Zara:
I'm so glad you're here reading this! I'm so glad you chose to learn about local history!
Each exhibit has information about the main topic and a set of activities to help you understand the depths of the history at hand.
Take the time to read each exhibit and understand the other things that were happening across the state of Texas, events across the nation, and patterns across the world.
This has been such a life-changing experience learning about so much history and how a small community of people banded together to create one of the strongest communities for all people.
The legacy the Founding Black Families of Plano carry is their heart for service for others. In learning about their deep-rooted history, I've come to appreciate that when someone decides to serve others, whether that's through volunteering, being in a leadership position, or providing help - it doesn't matter how you serve others, just make it a priority to be a service to others.
If we all commit to loving our communities, and opening our communities to create a bigger circle - no one will be left behind. Wouldn't it feel great if we always knew that everyone, even a stranger can help? It's inspired me to help more. It makes me happy to help! I hope when you read these incredible exhibits and complete the activities you'll feel the same way! Let's be kind, let's be helpful, and let's celebrate the accomplishments of all people! The beautiful art, history, culture, and heritage are celebrated in this collection, and be on the lookout for more updates! Feel free to comment on the exhibits and share your experiences! It's through experiences we learn!
Lastly, thank you to all the amazing people that helped with this effort. It's so nice to see people work together, and I have been spoiled by the love, kindness, consideration, and support from the people listed below. I'm grateful that you trusted me to delicately bring the Plano African American Museum online! Although this is only the first set of exhibits - we have triple the exhibits behind the scenes to share over time.
This project couldn't have been completed without the support & help of amazing people! Thank you to the following: volunteers, community focused friends, organizations, and companies that provided resources to make this experience happen!
Non-Profits & Community - Based Organizations:
Douglass Visions Committee
Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church
Girl Scouts of North East Texas
Plano Public Library
Collin County NAACP
Plano Public Library
Dallas Professional Women
Code Pink Productions, Inc.
New York Public Library
Texas Historical Commission
Heritage Farmstead Museum
The Kinsey Collection
Businesses & Organizations:
Zest of Life W Zara
Electrician On Call
On-Call Service Pros
Noxx Media Group
Eye Maid Cleaning Service
Trendsetters to Trendsetters Magazine
Weeks Law Firm
The ONE NINE Group Inc.
Friends, Families & Community Members:
Eleanor Stimpson Evans
Dr. Tamara Thomas
James Thomas Jr.
Mayor Harry LaRosiliere
Chief Ed Drain
The Lidonde - Price Family
Demetria & Jade
David, Lennox & Irum Jones
The Jones - Browning Family
The Jones - Rice Family
Chris Krupa Downs
Monique Je Muhammad
Robin & Scott Turner
The Rashid - Jones Family
Elizabeth Martin (Lizzy)
Jamie Hanna - Troop 3461
If you're reading this and inspired to do this in your own community, please comment here and I'll send you the template to help get you started! Many underrepresented communities need help to bring their stories online and to share them with the world. Let's combat the #MythOfAbsence together!
Combatting the Myth of Absence One Community at a Time
How a Spark of Curiosity Inspired a Local Student to Uncover Hidden History
Local Student Creates an Online Museum to Inspire Others to Embrace All History as American History
Girl Scout Gold Award Inspired a Texas Teen to Create an Online Museum Focusing on Diversity & Inclusion During the Pandemic