Many people have collections, but not many go out of their way to share them as Belmont resident Carolyn Hoskins does in turning the artifacts, memorabilia and other items she’s accumulated about black history and culture into a mobile museum. To celebrate Black History Month, her collection was on display throughout February in the vacant Cost Plus World Market store opposite Redwood City City Hall.
Thousands of items could be seen in the 22,000-square-foot space—photos, movie posters, commercial products, record albums, appliances, a pair of real metal shackles and more—to illuminate black history. It’s called the Domini Hoskins Black History Museum and Learning Center, after a grandson whose questions were the initial spark that set his grandmother on a mission.
“The whole point of the Learning Center is to make sure that people realize that African-Americans excel in more than just entertainment and sports,” says Hoskins, “which there’s nothing wrong with that.” Her late husband, Robert “Bob” Hoskins, was a San Francisco 49er defensive tackle who died in 1980 of a heart attack, at the age of just 34, leaving behind a loving family and friends in the community.
“It’s not just black history,” she says, of what she wants to educate people of all ages about. “It’s world history.”
The displays are broken down into categories, but Hoskins says most of the students enjoy the inventions African-Americans were involved with: the potato chip, the refrigerator, the toilet, the clothes brush, to name a few. “What would we do if we didn’t have the traffic signal?” she asks. “So all of these things were invented by blacks.”
The museum was open six days a week but she set aside time on Mondays for school and other special groups. She puts together goodie bags of material for the schools “because we don’t want the education to be just for one day.”
Interaction with grandson Domini, in fact, was the impetus for what became a lifetime of collecting. About 20 years ago he was going to Central School in Belmont and was assigned in February to do a report on a famous African-American. He told her he’d already done two reports on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “His question was ‘Weren’t there any other famous black people that did anything?’ So my answer to him is as you see today, over 22,000 square feet of black history.”
The roving museum has been set up in various places over the years, and for over a decade, the San Mateo County Event Center has hosted it. The museum became a registered nonprofit in 2007, with Hoskins as its executive director. The museum has several community sponsors, among them the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the NFL Foundation and the cities of Belmont and Redwood City. Hoskins would, however, like to find a permanent home for the museum. For information, visit hoskinsblackhistorymuseum.org.