As residents of North Lawndale and some nearby communities gathered at Collins Academy High School, 1313 S. Sacramento Dr. to watch the NBA All-Star Game, one message came through again and again: The community won’t get the resources it needs unless they stand up to be counted by participating in the U.S. Census.

The event was organized by Counting on Chicago Coalition, a group made up largely of West Side institutions and nonprofits, as a way to reach out to residents who might otherwise be reluctant to take the Census and at the same time providing the experience of watching the game without requiring them to pay United Center prices. Current Chicago Bulls player Denzel Valentine and former Bulls players Cliff Levingston and Craig Hodges were on hand to help spread the message, with Jesse White Tumblers, and two Chicago hip-hop groups, Crucial Conflict and Do or Die, providing entertainment. While most speakers acknowledged that African Americans in particular may be wary of turning over information to the government, they tried to persuade the attendees that it wasn’t as dangerous as they may think — and the benefits are well worth it.

As previously reported by this newspaper, the coalition was established as part of a broader effort throughout the state of Illinois to encourage participation in communities that tend to be undercounted. Karl Brinson, president of one of the coalition members, Chicago Westside NAACP, explained that he and other organizers were well aware that many members of the communities are reluctant to participate. 

“Most people are not comfortable giving personal information to the government, especially people of color, African Americans,” he said. 

Illinois state Representative Camille Lilly (78th), one of the elected officials who sponsored the viewing party, emphasized that “resources have to come to the communities that have been under-resourced.”

“And once you get counted, you can ask, you can demand that those resources [are used] in your community to address what you want,” she added.

In a follow-up interview, Lilly said they specifically wanted to do census outreach as part of a watch party “to give people a comfort level [so] that everyone is comfortable with being counted.”

In an interview shortly before he spoke to the attendees, Levingston told this newspaper that he was happy to do his part.

“In order to get resources for your community, there has to be an accurate count,” he said. 

When asked about the stigma Brinson mentioned, Levingston said he wanted to reassure residents that the data the Census Bureau collects wouldn’t be misused.

“[There is a belief] that the information is going to be used by law enforcement against them, but the census doesn’t share data,” he said.

In a later public speech, Levingston framed participation in the census as a way to make a difference.

“We always talk, ‘North Side has this, North Side has that,'” he said. “So stand up and be counted. Numbers matter.”

Hodges said he appreciated being part of an event where people in the community could watch the All-Star Weekend, since he was all too aware that a United Center ticket was out of the price range of most residents. 

The event also gave an opportunity for coalition members to spotlight their services. Family Guidance Centers, which is based near the former Cabrini-Green public housing development site and has several locations on the South Side and the suburbs, offers mental health services, including substance abuse treatment. Emily Youngblood, one of the organization’s volunteers, said that census has a direct impact on what they do, since state and federal funding is allocated based on need, and undercounting in the census can lead to decline in funding.

“Nonprofit organizations, community organizations, they run on government money, and [the governments] only give what they think you need,” she said.

Patricia Williams, a case manager at Family Guidance Centers, said that the watch party helped them get the word out about their own services.

“We talked to over 60 people,” she said, adding that “because they have family members and friends who aren’t here,” she hopes the information would reach even more people.


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...