Girl Scout Gives New Life to Plano African American Museum

Dollie Thomas, Zara Jones and Tamara Thomas in front of the original location of the Plano African American Museum // photos Zara Jones and Jennifer Shertzer
Dollie Thomas, Zara Jones and Tamara Thomas in front of the original location of the Plano African American Museum // photos Zara Jones and Jennifer Shertzer

Zara Jones, a senior at Plano West Senior High, has been a Girl Scout since she was a Daisy Scout in Kindergarten. She is now working toward earning her Gold Award with a project that spotlights the history and contributions of African Americans in Plano and around the United States. The Gold Award is Girl Scouts’ highest honor, earned by less than six percent of Girl Scouts. On Feb. 20 Zara launched the digital Plano African American Museum at planoblackhistory.org.

Zara grew up visiting museums, and loved the opportunity to learn about art, culture and history. But after some time, she noticed that these museums rarely highlighted African American contributions.

“It wasn’t until my mom became a volunteer docent at the ArtCentre of Plano. She was a docent for the Kinsey Collection. It sparked my curiosity of wanting to know more about African American contributions that took place nationally and locally,” Zara said. Her mother was trained by Junior League of Collin County as a volunteer docent for the exhibition, a collaborative effort between the nonprofits. The Kinsey Collection celebrates the achievements and contributions of Black Americans from before the formation of the United States to present times.

Zara interviewing Khalil Kinsey, curator of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection
Zara interviewing Khalil Kinsey, curator of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection

As she began working on her Gold Award project, Zara found out about the original Plano African American Museum in Douglass, our city’s historically Black neighborhood. The museum has been closed for years due to lack of funding.

“It made me upset that there was so much history locked in that museum that no one knew about. I decided I wanted to get that information and share it with the local community and around the world,” Zara explained.

She has built the online museum with the help of local residents Dollie Thomas, David Evans and Tamara Thomas, all descendants of the founders of Douglass. The online museum includes exhibits that were originally located in the physical museum as well as information that she has obtained from her reading and researching.

Zara (far right) with project consultants (from left) James Thomas, Toni Thomas, Eleanor Evans, Dollie Thomas, Dr. Tamara Thomas, Andrea Brooks and David Evans // courtesy Zara Jones
Zara (far right) with project consultants (from left) James Thomas, Toni Thomas, Eleanor Evans, Dollie Thomas, Dr. Tamara Thomas, Andrea Brooks and David Evans // courtesy Zara Jones

The collections of the online museum include:

  • Plano African American Museum – a time capsule exhibit from the Plano African American Museum in Douglass
  • 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
  • Disruptors – people, events and movements that made a significant impact by addressing civil rights, liberty and equality issues

One of Zara’s hopes for the online museum is that it creates a spark for the virtual visitor like the Kinsey Collection did for her. She hopes to inspire others to share history that isn’t often spotlighted. This leads into her work combating the myth of absence, the idea that if something isn’t talked or written about, it’s as if it never happened.

“By learning about local, national and even global contributions of African Americans, and committing to sharing that new knowledge, the myth of absence will be combated by the community,” Zara said.

“Not just one group, not just during Black History Month. This exhibit and collection of artifacts are available 24/7 to everyone around the world.”

An excerpt of the online museum's collections
An excerpt of the online museum’s collections

The online museum primarily focuses on the contributions of African Americans in Plano, but also touches on the history of African Americans across the globe. What makes the online Plano African American Museum special is the presence of personal stories via art and writing from the founding families of Douglass.

“There are so many contributions from African Americans through the world that we don’t yet know. It’s important to put those pieces back together,” Zara said.

Plano African American Museum >
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2 Comments

  1. Avatarsays: Michelle Meade

    Job well done, Zara! Congratulations! Your accomplishments with Girl Scouts are impressive and I hope you inspire more kids to join the program. I see big things in your future!

    I enjoy learning about history and look forward to checking out this online museum. I also looking forward to one day visiting the museum on site and in person!

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