[Episcopal News Service] The Union of Black Episcopalians has joined The Episcopal Church and other faith and advocacy groups in encouraging communities of color to participate in the 2020 census and register to vote, actions that have a direct impact on the distribution of federal funds and democratic representation in government.
During the second in a series of webinars, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” the Rev. Ellis Clifton, UBE’s Midwest regional director, told about 50 participants that African American voters could make the difference in the upcoming November election in key swing states like Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan, where many did not vote in 2016 “and now are singing the blues.”
The Episcopal Church is an official partner of the census and is urging all Americans to submit the data for their households, which is required by law. Click here for more information on civil engagement.
UBE began hosting “Talk 2 Talk” webinars in April 2020, with a conversation about mental health and spiritual care in the age of COVID-19, said the Very Rev. Kim Coleman, UBE national president. They are scheduled at 4 p.m. EDT every third Sunday of the month and are designed to inform, inspire and equip members with resources and support to address important contemporary realities.
“This is so very important because what we do about the census and voting will determine our future possibilities,” Coleman told ENS after the May 17 webinar.
“We are justifiably worried about COVID-19. The risk is that blacks, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable peoples will allow the immediate danger COVID-19 presents to distract us from the potentially more damaging future that will unfold if we fail to act,” she said. “Completing the census assures us that, for the next decade, essential funding for services and infrastructure will reach the areas where blacks, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable peoples live, if we will stand up and be counted.”
The same, she said, holds true for elections at all levels of government.
“Doing whatever it takes to cast a vote in local, state and national elections, down to applying for an absentee ballot, determines who the policy- and decision-makers will be,” Coleman said. “People who are not pleased with our national life and who dream of a better reality, particularly people of color, simply cannot afford to skip out on either the census or voting.”
Gina Wilson Steward, president of the Western Wayne County branch of Michigan’s NAACP and a featured webinar speaker, said the reluctance to complete census forms can result in loss of federal funds to local communities.
“Every person not counted in a city like Inkster represents an estimated $3,000 in funds at risk. That’s each year per person, and that’s money not coming to the city for 10 years,” Steward said, referring to her own community, a city of 24,381 people, 20 miles west of Detroit.
Those funds, she explained, are used “for schools, health programs, [free and reduced] lunches, housing assistance, roads, police and fire services and many other critical services that benefit our community.” In a city like Detroit, for example, failure to complete the census form can result in billions of dollars in lost revenue, she said.
Steward acknowledged that African Americans and people of color are often reluctant to fill out the forms because they lack computer access or feel that “the government does not benefit them or work for them,” she said.
“Our challenge is convincing them that failure to complete the census is not an option. Not completing the census harms our neighborhoods and hurts our people. An accurate census count affects everyone: seniors, students, children, parents, businesses and nonprofit agencies,” Steward said.
Reiterating the importance of an accurate census count, Steward stressed that the amount of federal funds cities received for personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic was determined by population count.
The forms may be completed via phone or online at 2020census.gov. “It takes 10 minutes to fill it out. We just have to get everybody involved,” she added.
The NAACP has been partnering with nonprofit agencies and churches to hold informational gatherings and even “be counted” challenges, she said. If possible, churches can aid the effort by providing online access so that local community members can complete the forms.
Inkster City Councilman Steve Chisholm, a warden at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Inkster and a webinar guest, said he completed the census form online in about 10 minutes. Chisholm said getting out the vote is everyone’s responsibility, and individuals can begin by talking with family members and friends.
“A lot of my peers and friends feel it’s just not that important to them, and you really have to explain about voting and how important it is at the local level,” said Chisholm, who is 32. Failure to vote in local elections risks excluding “new life” on city councils and county boards, possibly even losing a congressional seat, he said.
The Rev. Jamesetta Hammons, president of the H. Belfield Hannibal UBE Chapter in Los Angeles, said the group offered voter registration events earlier this year. “Two member congregations committed to registering voters,” said Hammons, a retired vocational deacon. Recalling the necessity of voting, she added: “My mother made it a point to still vote six days before she died. She could hardly walk, but she cast her ballot.”
Additionally, discovering her great-grandfather in the 1867 census in Bell County, Texas, makes completing the information “an important way for us to connect with our ancestors,” she told ENS.
She said the webinar helped her realize how “filling out the census form helps meet the needs of our communities. If the census form is not completed, we jeopardize so much for our families and neighborhoods.”
– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles, California.