The Historic Montopolis Negro School Open House won first place in the category of "Event - Community Engagement Forum" at the National Association of Government Communicators’ Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards on May 11, 2022. The Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards recognize excellence in government communication at all levels of government across the nation. Listed as one of the 21 most coveted government leadership awards, the Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards program has 51 categories in which communicators can submit work, reflecting the breadth of tactics employed by government communicators to deliver information to the public.
The City of Austin acquired the Montopolis Negro School in 2019 for the purpose of preserving and programming the building and site as a museum and tourist asset. The Montopolis Negro School operated from 1935 to 1962 and is among the last surviving rural schools that Travis County operated for African American children during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. After the Austin School District integrated in 1962, the building served as the Montopolis Church of Christ until the 1980s.
Austin Parks and Recreation held an open house at the school property on November 6, 2021. Approximately 85 community members attended, some former students at the school in the 1950s. Several key community leaders attended and spoke to media present. Neighbors attended to learn the history, and some had artifacts from the school to contribute for preservation. The open house inspired community support for the project in a way that would not have been possible without seeing the space and feeling the surroundings.
"When we think of segregation as a country or as a city, we tend to feel the shame of the system we inherited," said Austin Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley. "However, our staff provided an opportunity to come to the site and remember the joys, the striving, and the hope that ran parallel and in the face of the pain of segregation. The department was also reminded that we are stewards of these spaces, and without community, we stand to solidify systems of oppression rather than working together to break them down."
"We are proud to recognize the excellent work that these award winners provided to their communities in 2021. There were so many compelling, creative and informative products submitted this year," said NAGC President Scott Thomsen. "As government communicators, we believe that every citizen has a right to equal, full, understandable, and timely facts about the activities, policies and people of the agencies comprising their government. The works submitted this year really embodied that belief. The example set by these government communicators is one we should all follow."