The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM) is excited to announce a new series, “Behind Our TRUTH,” which focuses on telling captivating stories of the people who have contributed to ensuring our mission of TRUTH — Tolerance I Respect I Unity I Trust I Her-His-Their-Story — stands tall.
To kick things off, we sat down and spoke with PMPM Trustee, Don Collins. You may have seen his friendly face around town or at the John Randall House B&B on Bradford Street.
Don joined the Board of Trustees in 2022 with the goal of wanting to be part of positive change for the organization.
“You don’t know where change is going to take you. But you know that if you’re part of it, you can help direct that change.” ~Don Collins
Don was born in Washington, DC. His father was in the military, so he spent a large part of his childhood overseas. His family assimilated back into the United States when Don was in the eighth grade and the move proved to be a culture shock – Don’s new school was segregated.
“I just didn’t understand a lot of it, I spoke and dressed differently. I had never been part of that environment all my life.”
After finishing out that year, Don switched to a private Catholic boys high school, where he was the only minority in his class. He was the first of his family in his generation to graduate from college. Although it was pressure beyond measure at times, Don reflected that this time was very influential in teaching him to navigate different spaces. As soon as he completed his Master’s degree in Higher Education, Don worked at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania before moving to North Carolina and working at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) for many years. He started his UNC career working as an administrator for residence halls before getting a job in development, which sparked his interest in fundraising. Soon, he became the school’s development director of student affairs, but his role as UNC’s head cheerleading coach ignited a new passion. “[Coaching] was my love,” said Don.
From that passion, Don created Spirit Xpress Camps and the All Star Challenge cheerleading competitions companies (acquired by Varsity Spirit) which he operated for several years.
“My thought on this was if I could succeed and excel in those spaces, people behind me would see that they could, too. Be it Black, be it gay, be it a man, be it a woman. It didn’t matter. YOU decide which space you belong in. No one else decides for you.”
Life in Provincetown
People come to Provincetown for many reasons. Don first made his way to Provincetown in 2010. Like many, he came for vacation and to visit two of his friends who owned a guest house. Unfortunately, two weeks into his stay, one of them passed away. Don stepped in to help his surviving friend manage the guest house and several years later, became the owner.
At the time, he noticed that there weren’t many other Black-owned guest house businesses in Provincetown. Thirteen years later, the John Randall House is thriving.
“I wanted to be the one to encourage other people that looked like me to come to Provincetown to stay or to visit. And by also having a son, it was important for him to see that you can own businesses anywhere you want, even in a small town like Provincetown, because it’s about the type of business you run and how good you are in providing those services.”
Don crossed paths with the Pilgrim Monument when a close friend introduced him to the organization. After learning about the new direction it was taking, he was on board with wanting to use his expertise to drive new experiences and people at PMPM.
“The difference between going to the Museum back then and now is that it is much more inclusive, and it truly honors the real story. Not the story of what we have been told all of our lives. It shows the importance of the native people that were here way before we were. It also shows the importance of the gay community, and it doesn’t tell the history-book story.”
Being involved with people who want to talk about the reality of our past is what makes for a much better experience for everyone. With Don having an extensive background in fundraising, he knew he could help guide planning efforts for PMPM.
Don believes that more people are becoming involved with PMPM because it is making an effort to get a part of different aspects of the Provincetown community. The outreach has expanded to local artists, businesses, and restaurants.
“What makes up the overall community in Provincetown in 2023 was not what made it up in 2010. It’s changed dramatically and it’s going to continue to change.”
The grand opening of the inclined elevator took place in 2022. Don thinks that the inclined elevator will have an everlasting impact on how people visit the Monument and Museum. By extending PMPM’s front door down to Bradford Street – the commercial center of Provincetown – the elevator has eliminated barriers.