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Faith Leaders Join Effort to Increase Participation in 2020 U.S. Census

As U.S. Census Bureau operatives gear up for the tens of thousands of home visits, public forums and online and telephone submissions that will take place at the height of the 2020 season, agency officials continue to collaborate with faith leaders of various religions and denominations to debunk misconceptions about the process among communities of faith.

However, as Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church revealed during a recent gathering of faith leaders in the District, the difficulty for some of the clergy lies in convincing some of their colleagues about both the significance and benefits of this once-in-a-decade undertaking.

“In Georgia, the Census is on the agenda of every meeting we have,” Jackson, who presides over more than 500 AME churches in the state, said on Tuesday as he revealed his plans to designate the third Sunday in March for pastors to preach about the 2020 U.S. Census.

Jackson, one of six faith leaders who spoke during the 2020 Census Interfaith Partner Summit at the Washington National Cathedral in Northwest, said attempts to rally religious leaders in Delaware and New Jersey inspired his latest idea, centered on the need for collective action.

“We need to make sure our community counts — that all of us are counted,” Jackson said. “It’s important to emphasize to the individual [even if that’s] a library, a hospital, or a school. If you [aren’t] counted, that means all of us are being negatively impacted because of your dereliction.”

On April 1, also known as Census Day, households across the U.S. will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census via online, by phone, or mail. A month later, the U.S. Census Bureau will dispatch representatives to enclaves throughout the country to count those who have been overlooked or didn’t respond to initial outreach efforts.

Though the 2020 U.S. Census plays a significant role in determining the allocation of federal funding and the shape of congressional representation, among other facets of the American experience, marginalized groups harbor concerns about how the government uses the data collected and whether their personal information will remain secure.

A recent survey conducted by National Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and Educational Fund and Latino Decisions found that three-out-of-four Latinos feared that the Trump administration, which unsuccessfully attempted to secure the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census, would abuse the information collected. Meanwhile, activists in Asian American communities said they want data that reflects the diversity of one of the country’s fastest-growing populations.

Among African Americans, the Urban League and other civil rights-era advocacy organizations have mulled over how to venture out into hard-to-count areas and speak to those who believe that participating in the U.S. Census will bear minimal benefits.

In anticipation of the count, U.S. Census Bureau officials have launched a nationwide media blitz which includes print media, billboards, television and the Internet to stress the importance of the Census and to assure skeptics that safeguards had been put in place to facilitate the ethical use of data.

They have also conferred with the other religious leaders, including the following who served on the February 18 panel: The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Sister Judith Ann Karam of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and Catholic Health Association; Vikshu Kumar Gurung of the Buddhist Society of Nebraska; Hurunnessa Fariad of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center; and Rabbi Menachem Creditor of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation.

On the stage of the Charles A. Perry Auditorium at the Washington Cathedral, panelists represented congregations populated by African Americans, refugees, undocumented immigrants and adherents to old-world spiritual systems that discourage modern technology.

For Gurung, a refugee who fled Bhutan as a child, people in precarious situations like his need someone they can trust to convey crucial information about the U.S. Census.

“When our families first came here, [they were] advised not to share their personal information. So when I went [door to door], they didn’t want to share and I had to assure them that the information provided to the [U.S. Census Bureau] is safe, secure and very confidential,” he said.

“I had to tell them this is for the welfare of our families, faith communities and neighbors and that this will address hunger, poverty and homelessness. It wasn’t easy to interpret in 2010; [this time} I hope it will be a lot easier.”

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