SACRAMENTO – A mother sitting in the park with her toddlers may not understand the importance of the U.S. Census, but gets it upon learning that filling the survey out today can mean her children having a spot in a free afterschool program a few years from now.
An all out blitz is taking place in advance of the April 1 date the federal government has set as Census Day. Locally a number of community-based programs are taking part in efforts to educate the community about what the census is and what it means to them.
Among those leading the charge is the Greater Sacramento Urban League. CEO and President Cassandra Jennings was seen at several area Black History Month events encouraging participants to “Make Black Count.” Make Black Count is the slogan of an African American Complete Count Committee that is working to ensure that Blacks won’t be undercounted this time around.
The coalition is planning a Black Count Weekend March 20-22, in which volunteers will be at various locations, getting people complete the Census questions, either online or via phone.
On Friday and Saturday, volunteers will be at locations like the Youth Pop-Up events, the African Marketplace in South Sacramento and on Sunday, more than 25 churches will have booths set up for people to complete the Census.
Special Projects liaison Naweh Totimeh says the Census actually becomes available March 12 and the goal is to have people complete the survey as early as possible. Census takers, referred to formally as enumerators, have been hired by the federal government to go door-to door in areas where folks have not done so by the end of April.
“The longer you push it back, the less opportunities we have to be successful, that’s always the case,” Ms. Jennings said.
“You always want to get people to do it fast and get in early, so you don’t end up running out of time on the back end,” she continued.
The Census can be a hard sale for some and Ms. Jennings admits that part of the job is dispelling long-held myths that African Americans have.
“There’s a trust factor, there’s a concern about how the information is used. Part of it is just a lack of knowledge,” Ms. Jennings said.
“In our community, they’re skeptical. They want to know where the information is going, how it will be used against them. Part of our challenge and opportunity is to really let people know that it’s safe, it’s easy and it’s important,” she said.
“It’s important because it has a direct impact on resources that come to our community. Every person who isn’t counted, we lose dollars on the federal, state and local level to do things that include Head Start or housing assistance, school programs and school meal programs.
“I remember from my community development days, these were funds we could use to build parks in certain neighborhoods and respond to some of their needs so if we’re not counted for 10 years, we lose out on funds that should be coming to our communities and programs that serve us. We don’t want to do that,” Ms. Jennings continued.
Some would argue that the U.S. Census takes place every 10 years and yet African American communities are still waiting for improvements and for money to be invested for that change. Ms. Jennings takes an We’ve Got To Be In It To Win It perspective.
“Yes, we’re waiting, but just think, in any one neighborhood or census track you can pick, if 50 percent of people are not counted, how are you going to get the resources to do what you need to do?,” she said.
“First, we have to make sure that the count is there so that the money is there and then we have to make sure that that money is used properly, but if the money is not there to start with then we can’t even advocate for the money, because its not coming our way.”
Local and state Census efforts are pointing to its impact on redistricting and representation.
“How can we get representation with 50 percent in a district or precinct that is not counted?,” Ms. Jennings said. “Then 50 percent of people are not represented. That’s a problem, because then we don’t have anyone to represent our issues, because as far as they’re concerned, we don’t exist, but we do.”
Other efforts include “My Black Counts,” an education and awareness initiative by The California Black Census and Redistricting Hub. Each group is conducting training and creating culturally sensitive approaches to outreach.
Ms. Jennings says “flooding the market” is a good approach, that it’s not a case of there’s too many cooks in the kitchen, but rather, whatever works to ensure the most folks get fed.
“The other day at the Sacramento Black Expo, there were a couple of us,” she said. “The good thing is, it was all around Black Count. Ours is Make Black Count, somebody is My Black Counts and somebody else was Count Black something. We’re all singing the same song, even though it’s with different words. We’re all looking for the same results–can we get through all of the obstacles to get you to fill out the form so we can count you.”
Black Count Weekend supporters include the Alliance Of Californians For Community Empower (ACCE); Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.-Eta Gamma Omega Chapter; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity,Inc.Sacramento Alumni; Black Political Association of California- Sacramento; the Black Child Legacy Campaign; Black Women Organized For Political Action (BWOPA); California Black Chamber Of Commerce; California Black Media; California Urban Partnership; Calvary Christian Center; Center For Fathers And Families; Christian Fellowship Ministry; City Church Of Sacramento; Del Paso Union Baptist Church; Genesis Baptist Church; Greater Sacramento NAACP; Greater Sacramento Urban League; HAWK; Improve Your Tomorrow; Jewish Community Relations Council; Justice2Jobs Coalition
Kappa Psi Zeta Chapter; “Lift Up Love Always” (L.U.L.A); Liberty Towers/Impact Sac; Morning Star CHSC; Murph-Emmanuel A.M.E. Church; National Action Network-Sacramento;
Sacramento Valley Section of the National Council of Negro Women; New Hope Baptist Church;
New St. Bethel Baptist Church; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.,Theta Gamma Sigma Chapter; Roberts Family Development Center; Rose Family Creative Empowerment Center; Sac Cultural Hub; Sacramento Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Sacramento Alumni Chapter Of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. Inc; Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT); Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS); Sacramento Building Healthy Communities; Sacramento Chapter Of The Links, Inc.; Sacramento For Black Lives; Shiloh Baptist Church; Sierra Health Foundation; St. Andrews AME Church; St John Missionary Baptist Church; St Paul Missionary Baptist Church; South Sacramento Christian Center; The Light Christian Church; The Epsilon Xi Chapter Of The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., The Sacramento OBSERVER; Unity Of Sacramento International Spiritual Center; Urban Strategies; and Voice Of The Youth.
For a list of Make Black Count locations, visit www.makeblackcountsac.org.