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“It is our duty to stand up, be counted, be seen.” Black Community Leaders Kick of 2020 Census Push


Black community leaders gathered together inside Mount Zion Baptist Church on Wednesday to kick off the 2020 Census count in Madison. 

“In a nation that tries to erase us as black people, it is our duty to stand up, be counted and be seen,” YWCA Madison Chief Executive Officer Vanessa McDowell said.

Senior Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church Marcus Allen opened the event with a prayer before numerous community leaders stepped to the podium to convince community members to participate in the 2020 Census. Alders, nonprofit leaders, pastors, and local organizers spoke about representing all members of the Black community including elders, immigrants, and children.

“The importance of the Census is so huge that I don’t think that our community recognized that I joined three committees to make sure our voices are counted,” Kids Forward Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Corinda Rainey-Moore said.

The 2020 Census will seek to count every person living in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories, and will become the basis for the allocation of federal funds to cities, counties, states, school districts and other units of local democracy. 

Households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed instructions to complete online, by phone or by mail beginning March 1. Census Day will be observed nationwide on April 1 but community leaders have asked residents to start the census ahead of time.

“We want more funding in our schools for road repair and so much more,” Alder Sheri Carter said.

While the law ensures the protection of private data, information gathered through the census determines where to distribute federal funds through funding formulas. This affects the number of resources allocated for education, healthcare, food security, and other services or programs to local communities.

“Although it is a federal mandate, African Americans have had to fight for fair and adequate representation dating back to 1787,” NAACP Dane County Branch President Greg Jones said.

He also said Black people have been historically undercounted in the census. McDowell said communities of color are still not fully counted today. In the 2010 Census, she said 3.7 million African Americans were not counted alongside 3.8 million Latinx people and two million children that were not reflected in the data. 

Photo by Madeline Chappell

The leaders at the event said it’s also important for at least some to go beyond filling out the form.

“We’re asking our community to please sign up and be a census worker,” State Representative Shelia Stubbs said. 

She and other community leaders echoed the importance of having trusted voices working for the census to assure the issues within the Black community make it to the forefront. Black community leaders have asked foundations for financial support for marginalized communities. 

“Trust is everything. There is a sense of fear that will keep you from voting. There is a sense of fear that will keep you from being counted,” Alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney said.

Stubbs also asked all churches and organizations to assign an ambassador to assist in the coordination of census. These organizations will plan their own census kick-off events sometime between March 27-29. Stubbs said completing the 2020 census is an act of social justice. 

“As you have heard, it is important that the 2020 census captures a complete picture of our state’s population,” she said.