Census push is on

Maryam Abdul-Aleem | 4/12/2011, 5:22 p.m.

On January 4, the U.S. Census Bureau began promoting the 2010 census by debuting the 2010 Portrait of America tour bus in Times Square, which will go across the country to familiarize people with the format of the census form and why people are being urged to fill it out when it comes in the mail in March.

The U.S. Census Bureau is investing millions to publicize the census, with targeted advertisement specifically within the African-American and Black community with newspaper, radio and television ads.

And on January 4, the U.S. Census Bureau took it a step further by sending U.S. Census representatives to the Harlem community for an informational meeting with community leaders and local politicians. The meeting addressed the importance of the Black and Brown communities to fill out the 10-question form, which determines the apportioning of seats in the House of Representatives, allocation of $400 billion in federal funding, drawing local district lines and a host of other statistical data.

The 2010 census is being considered important even more so for people of color because the minorities of yesterday are the majorities of today, which was something that Assemblyman Keith Wright highlighted as an important factor in making sure the Black and Brown communities are accurately counted at the meeting.

"This is our future," said Rep. Charles Rangel, who has been working with the Department of Commerce and was at the meeting. "It also determines how $400 billion will be distributed every single year. We have to have an accurate count of the people, especially in these economic times."

NAACP President of the New York State Conference Hazel Dukes said that there are going to be events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to raise awareness on the census in churches and community centers.

"Instead of just talking about King, we have to talk about what King left for us to do. We've got to be counted. This is how we get to be in power. We can get money into our community for housing, for heath, for unemployment, for training and for retraining our people. That empowers our community. So if we don't have the count, we don't get money," she said.

Dukes, Councilman Robert Jackson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce Gary Locke, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau Dr. Robert Groves, and others in and around the Harlem community were in attendance in an effort to educate the public on the process of the census to raise the response rate from the community that has been low in the past.

"We know a lot of people don't answer surveys," said Locke, so the U.S. Census representatives were pulling out all the stops this time to raise awareness, along with raising awareness on the job opportunities that local residents can applying for within the census.

But more importantly, what was also highlighted on the agenda at the meeting were ways to break down barriers that have been known to contribute to the low response rate in Black and Brown communities--barriers that often deter people from sending back the forms when they are mailed or refusing to allow field workers into their homes when they come.