Candice Mays
Contributor

Undaunted by COVID-19, Faith Leaders Stay Focused on Black Census Outreach

May 22, 2020 | Community

The historical precedent of faith-based communities carving the path to political power and socioeconomic equity is still very much a part of Black California’s present. 

Pastors and faith leaders working locally in regions across the state including the Inland Empire, Central Valley, and Bay Area are amplifying their voices and leveraging their platforms. Their goal is simple. To ensure the message of a complete count in Census 2020 is not drowned out by political turmoil and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bottom line is this – they are some of the trusted messengers in our communities and any information relayed through them is not only met with open ears, hearts, and minds, but most importantly, action. 

Efforts encouraging and mobilizing Black Californians to count a politically and socioeconomically disenfranchised population, both disenchanted and disengaged with civic participation, have been compounded by the sudden and unexpected ramifications of COVID-19. 

The health and safety of California’s Census partners and the public is a priority. As the response to COVID-19 has evolved, the California Complete Count – Census 2020 Office has maintained constant communication with contracted partners including statewide faith-based leaders and organizations such as Faith in the Valley, Faith in Action, and Congregations for Prophetic Engagement (C.O.P.E.). 

The U.S. Census Bureau has announced several adjustments to their operational plans, most notably, they are delaying all in-field activities until June 1. It is fitting in response to the limitations of interpersonal contact due to COVID-19, that outreach strategies have also shifted online in the first, truly digital Census.

Many faith leaders across the state are grappling with the same question as Terri McWilliams, Leader of the Bay Area’s Faith in Action. “How do we move forward and make sure people know and have the information that is critical for them to have because we lost so much during some of the miscounts in the 2010 Census?”

There are no easy answers.

In response to the shelter-in limitations, statewide leaders, including Pastor Samuel J. Casey, Founder and Executive Director of C.O.P.E., have pivoted digitally. Based in the Inland Empire, C.O.P.E.’s team of phone bankers and canvassers partnered with California Calls and leveraged the power of social media, encouraging congregational members to spread the word via various platforms underscoring what the Black community stands to lose if there is an undercount in 2020. 

Pastor Casey believes education is key. “What I love about the Census process this time around is that it’s very easy. It’s really not as intrusive as most people think it is.” 

It’s important to be direct with the African American community concerning “what it costs us when we are not counted in the Census,” Pastor Trena Turner and First Lady of Victory in Praise of Stockton, CA explains.  The founding Executive Director of Faith in the Valley encourages Central Valley residents to consider their future. “If you do not show up, if we’re not counted, we’re basically giving the government an opportunity to pretend like we do not exist.” 

The issue of counting is not just political, it’s personal. 

A member of Imani Community Church in Oakland, CA, Terri McWilliams attended Oakland public schools in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Oakland public schools were highly rated, both locally and nationally. McWilliams noticed a change when her son began attending junior high school in the same district and opted out of the public school system by enrolling him into private school.

“Despite our current challenges and life changes right now, it is important because what hasn’t changed is that we must make sure that everybody’s counted,” McWilliams explained. “If not, we will lose money for housing, health care, education… not to mention the political power.” 

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