“Three-fifths. That’s all we were counted for. We were voiceless.”
That’s how a recent Fair Count ad began. Of course, the advertisement referenced the 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise, which recommended counting three out of every five slaves as people when determining political representation. Sure, we’ve come a long way, but just how far, exactly?
The Urban Institute estimated that over 1.7 million black people could be undercounted in the 2020 Census. Each person counted brings federal dollars to their state (e.g., about $2,300 per person in Georgia). Conversely, each state loses money for every person not counted. At varying amounts in each state, the undercount of 1.7 million black people could result in a loss of over $3 billion in federal funding—every year for the next 10 years. That loss in funding would impact education, transportation, healthcare and infrastructure resources in vulnerable communities that cannot afford losses. Furthermore, failure to get an accurate count negatively impacts our power, because census data are used to allocate political power at federal, state, and local levels.
Historically, black men, in particular, have experienced high net undercount rates in the Census, with some age groups being undercounted by 10 percent in 2010. In May 2019, Former Attorney General Eric Holder joined Stacey Abrams and Fair Count at the launch of the Black Men Count Statewide Complete Count Committee in Georgia, and he led a roundtable discussion to raise awareness of the impacts of undercounting black men in the census. “Black Men Count” is composed of faith leaders, elected officials, barbers, students, fraternity leaders, and returning citizens. These men have created an innovative approach for outreach targeting black men.
Along the way, Fair Count has partnered with similarly-minded groups like Black Dads Count and Sigma Pi Phi, Inc. (also known as the Boulé), making “Black Men Count” a national initiative. One of the most innovative approaches for outreach is a program called “Black Men Speak,” which was created to give black men space to gather and strategize to ensure that they’re all being counted and engaging civically in Georgia and across the nation. These informal gatherings have led to the education and engagement of countless black men.
But there has been one group in particular that has not been mentioned yet, and this group has always contributed greatly to the positive outcomes for black men. You guessed it—black women. Black women have been an instrumental part of outreach to black men. Are we surprised? After all, black women have been the foundation of our communities for generations.
The news is saturated with articles about the power that black women will yield in 2020 elections, but black women must also harness that power and influence to ensure a fair count in the 2020 Census. As leaders, mothers, entrepreneurs, sisters, teachers, partners, and mentors, black women will lead the charge to make sure that black children, families and communities receive the resources and representation that they deserve. To make this a reality, Fair Count partnered with the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), which reaches millions of black women across the country, to start the “Sisters for the Census” campaign.
The campaign kicked off with a virtual roundtable, hosted by Mo Ivory, featuring Fair Count Founder, Stacey Abrams and NCNW President, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. The lively conversation included discussions about how the Census impacts our daily lives, ways that we can get folks engaged, and even a threat to call down the spirits of our ancestors to haunt those that don’t participate. However, the most poignant moment came from Cole who said, “We can’t see this as a 2020 issue. This is connected to every struggle we have been engaged in for our rights as human beings. So, if you can’t take a matter of minutes to fill it out…you are saying that every one of the individuals that the good Lord made with this wonderful hue—it doesn’t matter what they have done, who they are. And most importantly, you are saying that the future of black children is meaningless.”
In 2010, 3.8 million black people were flat out missed in the Census. Moreover, 2.2 million young children (under 5 years old) were missed, and black and brown children were twice as likely to be undercounted than white kids. We can’t let this happen again. Between “Black Men Count” and “Sisters for the Census.” we plan to get every black man, woman, and child counted. Whether you’re a citizen, immigrant, or undocumented—you count. Because as Stacey Abrams said, “[If] we are not counted, they’ll erase us from the future of this country.”
We also understand that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, so Fair Count is using virtual events, digital outreach, phone-based efforts, advertising and other creative strategies to safely engage people around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please take time today to visit 2020 Census to complete the 2020 Census online. You can also participate by phone or mail. When you’re done, encourage someone else to participate, and visit Fair Count for additional resources and to learn more about how you can get involved.
We can all agree that being counted in the 2020 Census as a whole person, whole family, whole household and whole community places us on an upward trajectory to creating a more fair and equitable society where our communities get the resources and power that they deserve. Remember, we only get one shot every 10 years, so we have to get it right this time. Our ancestors and children are watching.
Ed Reed is program director at Fair Count, and he leads Black Men Count. He and his wife recently welcomed an adorable baby boy!
Dr. Jeanine Abrams McLean is vice president at Fair Count, and she leads Sisters for the Census. She and her husband have two sons.