Most of Friendship Baptist Church’s congregation raised their hands on Palm Sunday when Rev. Reggie Bacchus asked who had received census forms in the mail. About as many hands remained when he inquired who had completed the forms and placed them in the mail.
A broad smile indicated his approval.
“What a blessing,” said Bacchus, who added that anyone who hadn’t completed the form could do so in the church’s basement following services. Friendship and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Chicago Region office had set up a booth in the church’s basement where forms could be retrieved, filled out with the assistance of a census representative and mailed out free of charge.
“It’s 10 questions, and it takes 10 minutes,” Bacchus told worshippers. “Make sure you get that info in. I have some stamps and we will walk over to the post office and send it if we need to.”
Before Sunday’s service Bacchus sat down with the Austin Weekly and explained Census Sunday. Announced in February, Bacchus and Friendship asked churches and organizations throughout the Austin community to partner with the local branch of the Census Bureau and provide churchgoers with census forms on March 28.
“We’ve contacted most of the churches in Austin … [and] talked about the census … although it’s up to them,” Bacchus said. “We’re just trying to get it out [to the public].”
Bacchus is also a member of the Salem Baptist District Association and a regular attendee of District 15 CAPS meetings and has used the respective organizations as information forums for census awareness.
“The biggest thing is the educational [aspect],” Bacchus said.
He said that he has tried to “zero in on the financial impact” of a poor response rate. According to Census Bureau data, only 48 percent of Austin residents responded to the 2000 Census, a phenomenon that Bacchus and other community leaders are working to reverse before forms are due on April 1.
“The money comes into the community [on the basis of] the number of people in the community,” said Rev. A.P. Randall, pastor of 12 Gates Missionary Baptist Church. “If we’re miscounted, then our services will be miscounted.”
Randall and 12 Gates have also been proactive in the census campaign. He says he has made announcements and even offered census representatives an office in the church.
Specifically gauging the amount of federal money that has been allocated to Austin over the last te10n years on the basis of Census data is a difficult task. When contacted, census representatives said the bureau does not inventory such data, and recommended contacting local governments and various federal agencies.
These are the entities that either lobby for or dole out federal money, and should have such information to reference for requests. Ed Smith had no information regarding census-based federal money allocated to the 28th Ward; Emma Mitts’ (37th Ward) did not reply to phone calls.
According to a Brookings Institute Study, as of 2008, Cook County was the third-highest recipient of census-based federal assistance dollars ($10.1 billion). At the same time, though, only 65 percent of Cook County (55 percent in Chicago) responded to the 2000 survey.
In an e-mail to the Austin Weekly, Michele Lowe, a Washington D.C.-based census representative, claimed that the response rate was not indicative of the final data because more surveys were gathered by enumerators – census employees who canvass door to door.
In a mass e-mail, Bacchus listed the implications of census data: money for road repair, education, healthcare and the redistribution of districts for U.S. representatives.
“We want to … make sure that we have adequate representation,” Bacchus reminded his congregation, to a chorus of concurring “amens.”
Throughout the service, Bacchus’ preaching paralleled the preceding census announcement.
“It’s time to quit putting off to tomorrow what we can do today,” he thundered at one point.
Sunday’s display of hands at Friendship indicated that Bacchus, Randall and other leaders and organizations are reaching people in their effort to mobilize census participation.
The response of Thelma Traylor, an elderly Austin woman, when asked if she had mailed in her survey, exemplifies this: “Yes, I did. Right away.”