We’re not the first ones to say it, but we are at a pivotal point in our country’s history and it’s democracy. The last several months we have seen the country change drastically in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, altering the very fabric of our daily lives as a record number of people lost their jobs, millions contracted the virus and thousands have died. For all of our collective misery, the news bore out what many already knew, Black people bore the brunt of both blows — with higher infection and death rates from the virus and worse unemployment numbers, too.

And now, in the moment when “Black Lives Matter” goes from an activist slogan to a street address in the nation’s capital, the country has become hyper aware of other inequalities meted out by race, namely disproportionately higher rates of arrests, imprisonment, and experiences with police brutality. 

“The black count is in peril,” says Jeri Green, the Census 2020 Senior Advisor at the National Urban League. 

As with many organizations, nonprofits are asking “what can we do to help address these issues?” Obviously, in American democracy, representation matters. Moreover, groups like Voto Latino and Rock the Vote — who are laser-focused on getting young, people of color to vote — have reported big spikes in voter registration in the wake of the country-wide protests.  This is a welcomed boon considering studies showing MILLIONS of lost voter registrations due to the shuttering of DMVs and other in-person activations due to COVID.

And yet, there’s another way to ensure the African American community is represented fully and fairly in our democracy – that is, ensuring they are counted in the 2020 Census. Unfortunately, on that front, we are facing yet another crisis. 

“The black count is in peril,” says Jeri Green, the Census 2020 Senior Advisor at the National Urban League. 

“The Census Bureau is already claiming victory with a 61.5 percent national response rate.  While it is true that some states have exceeded the national response rate,  But as you look across the national landscape in local communities there are troubling signs regarding black participation in the census.”  Black rural populations are particularly vulnerable as Census enumeration of rural communities had been delayed for months restarting only recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Green says the National Urban League has been instrumental in ensuring black communities are properly counted, crediting the organization as one of the most consistent and outspoken voices warning the nation about COVID’s impact on the 2020 Census black count — a voice she says was key in the bureau extending the Census completion deadline two months to October 31. 

From Green’s perspective, Census work is “just as important as the other work the Urban League is already conducting — fighting for equal rights, feeding children, training the formerly incarcerated, creating pathways to home ownership and business development. It’s all a part of the same strategy; the same need—empowering our community.”  

To help get out the count in the Black community, the organization resurrected the Make Black Count initiative — initially originally launched in 1970 to combat woeful undercounting in the previous decade’s Census. While many of the initiative’s efforts had to go online vs. in person due to the pandemic, they have mobilized a 2020 Census Black Roundtable comprised of national civil rights organizations, thought leaders and Black immigrant organizations to share crucial census information, conduct tele-townhall meetings, promote online and digital outreach strategies and advocate for a complete count in the halls of Congress.  She says the initiative’s main message to the Black community is to “take control of your community and your future. Respond to the Census right now. Self respond, don’t wait.  Make Black Count in the 2020 Census”

When asked how the initiative fits into the current moment of racial reckoning and how it can help, Green answered, “the enumeration of the population is written in the constitution right next to free speech and the right to bear arms — it’s a fundamental part of the country. Another part of America’s history counted Black people as three-fifths of a person, so if your community needs to rebuilt after COVID-19 – hospitals, healthcare, etc., and isn’t counted, you’re going from three-fifths of a person to ZERO fifths of a person. It’s essentially saying Black Lives Don’t Matter, and we know that’s definitely not what anyone means to say.” 

Ready to get involved? Here are other resources:
Black Census Project (June 19) https://blackcensus.org/
Our Count — https://ourcount.org/