Hamil R. HarrisNational

African American Census Officials: ‘We’re Ready to Go’

The United States Census Bureau recently unveiled a comprehensive national advertising and outreach campaign for the 2020 census and despite concerns by critics of a potential undercount, officials expressed confidence that the upcoming Census will be more effective than ever.

Flanked by a diverse panel of bureau managers, Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau, during a packed press conference Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the Arena Stage in Southwest, said, “The 2020 Census needs the attention and support of everyone.”

“Reaching historically hard-to-count populations in groups and individuals is our highest priority,” Dillingham said. “We are especially focused on reaching communities that are hard to reach and hard to motivate [and] that traditionally have been undercounted.”

Dillingham spoke during the event as other Census Bureau officials shared strategies that will be employed to reach all audiences in a country of more than 300 million and who need to be reached in nine months starting this March. In order to achieve success, Census officials will release advertisements in 13 languages including English.

Every decade when the federal Census occurs, one of the topics of greatest concern, from voices on the Hill to utterances raise during community meetings in Anacostia, remains securing the most accurate count possible for the number of people in residing in the U.S.

“It’s important that advertising taking place while the door knocking program is going on,” said Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League during a hearing last week held by the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. He particularly expressed concern over whether the Census Bureau is doing enough to ensure an adequate count.

Morial said he’s fearful about the count in “rural and poor black communities” and remains unconvinced that the Census Bureau has the needed staff or “enumerators” – the trained individuals who go door-to-door encouraging people to fill out official documents distributed by the Census Bureau.

But on Tuesday, Tim Olsen, associate director for field operations, pointed to a massive operation that includes 170,000 partners, 120,000 events and a pool of 1.7 million applicants.

“I am very confident that we are getting a large applicant pool,” Olsen said.

Also during the Tuesday event, Census Bureau officials highlighted part of their advertising campaign crafted to ensure that African Americans and other diverse groups will be reached during and accounted for. Initiatives include the creation of more than 1,000 digital advertisements developed to reach diverse and multicultural audiences across the country.

And although there have been few faces of color employed within the Trump administration, the Census Bureau seems to favor diversity within its ranks including Michael Cook, chief of the public information office, and Kendall Johnson, executive director of the Communications Contract.

Albert E. Fontenot Jr., associate director for Decennial Census Programs, counts as one of the highest-ranking African Americans at the Bureau. During the news conference, he expressed optimism that the count will go well.

“Many organizations have scheduled rallies and events and in addition to our staff there are state-based count committees and we have a large number of partners assisting our complete count committees, all of whom will make a much larger impact in successfully reaching Black communities.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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