Black Churches Aim to Increase Census' Numbers

Denise Stewart courtesy of BlackAmericaWeb.com | 6/1/2010, 11:43 a.m.

Almost 30 percent of the people in the United States have not participated in the 2010 Census, and two black organizations are now taking the "Count Me In" message to churches to tap those hard to reach people.

"People may turn off the television. They may not listen to the radio, and they may not get on the Internet, but they come to church," said the Rev. T. DeWitt Smith Jr. of the National African American Clergy Network. That organization, along with the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, launched a campaign on Sunday to target churches with specific messages and prayers through the end of June. Some ministers and church associates also are using social media in the campaign.

The census count will help determine how the federal government spends $400 billion each year for the next 10 years. It also is used to determine representation in the House of Representatives, said Stanley Rolark, chief of public information for the U.S. Census Bureau.

"In this economy, we can't afford to have any of our communities undercounted," said Melanie Campbell, executive director of the NCBCP, tolf BlackAmericaWeb.com. "By working with the black churches, we can reach people with a trusted voice."

Being properly counted means billions of dollars to communities to pay for quality schools, housing, health care, jobs and other critical goods and services African-Americans desperately need, Smith said.

The "Count on Me - Count Me In Census Campaign" stresses the importance of participating in the census and urges churchgoers who have not filled out a census form to cooperate with census takers or call in their census forms immediately.

The campaign is targeting 10 cities: Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Gary, Indiana; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and New York, NY.

While the final participation rates will not be calculated until the end of the survey period, Campbell said there are some communities with large populations of people of color that have low participation rates.

In Orleans Parish, which includes the city of New Orleans, the participation rate at the close of the first phase of the campaign was only 43 percent, according to Census data. In Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, the participation rate was 67 percent. Campbell also said there are large areas in Brooklyn, New York where the participation rate, so far, is low.

Specially designed Census toolkits are being distributed to members of the faith community to prepare faith leaders to address questions related to the 2010 Census.

"Census Sunday Toolkits" include a sample church bulletin, pulpit announcement, a "Prayer for a Fair 2010 African-American Census Count" and an introductory letter signed by 20 prestigious clergy members, including Bishop Paul Morton, Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., and Reverend Dr. Cheryl Sanders. The toolkits also provide information on how to identify legitimate census workers.

Smith, a pastor in the Atlanta metro area and head of the 2.5 million-member Progressive National Baptist Convention, said there is a spiritual basis for the census, maintaining that it also provides a generational connection.

"Census is not anti-Christian. We may not know all we know about Jesus Christ if his mother and father had not been counted," Smith told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "When my one-year-old grandchild looks back, I want him to know I was here in 2010."

Organizers of the campaign say they hope they can allay some of the fears that are common among people who have not participated in census.

"Some people have fears about who gets the information and how it will be used," Smith said. The 2010 Census taker will not ask for social security number, bank account number or credit card number and will never solicit for donations or contact you by e-mail, he said.

"People need to know that it's not too late to participate in the 2010 Census," Campbell said. The goal is to reach people before the door-to-door campaign ends on July 10, she said. "We know we can count on our faith leaders to make sure our community gets counted so that we get our fair share of billions of dollars."