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Stand up, be counted

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 5:25 p.m.

In today's Amsterdam News and in earlier editions, we have talked about the United States Census, the survey that ALL of America gets every 10 years. On these pages, we have discussed the lack of outreach on the part of the federal government to communities of color, especially through the Black press. We have discussed the fact that a mere $2.4 million has been spent on trying to get the message across to Black America through our own mediums. With more than 40 million African-Americans--larger than the population of Canada or Australia--that is less than 6 cents per person, is that all we're worth to America? This is a real problem.

It is a real problem because we MUST BE COUNTED.

The fact that the federal government is not spending its advertising dollars in the Black press is serious, but even more serious is the fact that by not spending that money, less people will be informed about the importance of the census and may not fill it out.

That is why I write this editorial today. It is imperative that you fill out your census form since this count only happens every 10 years, and over that 10 year period, many decisions are made based upon the numbers reported by communities. These decisions affect our lives in large and small ways, from whether or not to open a new school, provide healthcare or free lunches for poor children, or whether or not there is even the proper number of congressional districts in states where we live. The census has an enormous impact on all of these areas of our lives.

I know for some, filling out a census may seem to be a bit of an invasion of your privacy. We don't like folks getting too much in our business, but the information the government is looking for is pretty straightforward and not too invasive. There are just 10 questions for the head of household and then seven questions for each additional person living in the house as of April 1, 2010.

The questions simply ask name, sex, age, race and housing status. The information is not intended for law enforcement or immigration authorities, so you should not fear that by filling out the form you will bring unwanted attention or trouble to yourself or family members. The information gathered will be used for statistical information, as well as to help decide how each of us is represented in government and through social services. It is clear that all too often our people are underrepresented in government and that our communities do not get their fair share of social and government services. But if you fail to be counted, do you have the right to complain?

This is the chance to stand up and be counted--do it with pride. Take the same pride that you had when you went to the polls in 2008 and voted for President Obama, because this is an equally important time to be heard.

And don't think that if you just ignore that envelope the government will give up on counting you--it is too important an effort. An army of census workers will fan out across the country, knocking on doors to get this vital information as well. But don't sit back and wait. Take the few minutes to do the survey on your own and your participation will serve to strengthen our community politically, economically and socially.