Problem of the Census

Jumaane Williams, Esmerelda Simmons, and Lurie Daniel Favors

Jumaane Williams, Esmerelda Simmons, and Lurie Daniel Favors

NYCBLAC with the Center for Law and Social Justice on the Problem of the Census

At the April meeting of Community Board 8 one of the people who spoke before the meeting proper began was Hakeem Elliot of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. He spoke about how important the upcoming census is and that it is essential there be a full count of Black People, something that had not happened in decades and decades. After the meeting I spoke to Hakeem and got his card. Sometime later we made a date to talk but then he left a message that I should get in touch with Imani Dawson who is the media person for the center. I did speak with her, and she said I should come to a news conference to conclude an upcoming meeting of Black politicians in New York strategizing how to get the largest possible turn out for the census.

So on April 26 I walked over to Medgar Evers at 1650 Bedford Avenue, and security directed me to a room deep in the building. There I met Imani Dawson and she pointed out various people from the Center – Esmeralda Simmons and Lurie Daniel Favors. Then I found out Jumaane Williams was a joint sponsor of the news conference and would be participating. Sure enough, the newly elected Public Advocate showed up and I took his picture along with Simmons and Favors, and soon after that, the press conference began. Williams spoke about how important the census is for Black people. On the basis of the census, political representation is apportioned. If Blacks are under counted there will be less representation in Black neighborhoods. Also it provides the basis by which funds are apportioned. A lower count means less money for schools, medical care, jobs programs, housing and every other service that comes from the government. Williams was followed by Favors who pointed out that the census is simply a matter of making sure all residents fill out the short form or answer the door if someone knocks and asks the six questions. She said there is no need for organizing, protests, strikes or sit-ins. The only thing that matters is convincing every person to be sure he or she is counted and also to have them mark themselves as Black, which is a category with several special attributes as far as funding goes.

Next came Simmons, who spoke about the need for the census to be funded. She said the operation would need 30,000 people to do a thorough job, and she called on DiBlasio to increase the city funding from 20 million to 40million to deal with the historic under counting, and said that every resource should be used to reach people – businesses, churches, neighbors reaching out and all other means so that every resident would have good information and realize that filling out the form is safe. She said many Black people have reason to be wary of government agencies, but in this case, the Census is completely independent from other government organizations. She also said the best way to convey information about the census is through trusted friends. A pastor explaining the count is far more likely to succeed than a stranger knocking on the door. She then turned to the possible inclusion of a question about immigration status. She said the purpose of the question is clear, to frighten the undocumented into sitting out the census. She pointed out that one could simply not answer the question and still be counted. Finally a professor from Medgar Evers spoke about history. He said the at one time New York State had 45 members in its congressional delegation and that it now has 27. Projections indicate that number could go down to 25. With a high count of Black people, he estimated that New York might actually gain two seats. He said that in the 1920's New York had a better count than it does now. One can imagine what the forces were that led to today's under count. The history of Black people in the United States has had its ups and downs. The voting rights that were secured in the 1960's are now under attack as certain states have found new ingenious ways of bringing back the essence of Jim Crow. The census is yet another example. One has to struggle to move forward and then be vigilant not to lose those gains.

The conference was informative and it was good to know that a large number of political leaders had gotten together to address this issue. Now the problem is to get the information out and organize as effectively as possible to get everyone into the count that comes next year.

– John DeWind