Wrath of the Math: Understanding the Census (Pg 2)

“I’mma tell you right now, you come to my project tryna knock on a door, you going to have a problem,” says another young man seated at the far end of the table. But the bold comment doesn’t match his persona. Avoiding all eye contact, he lets his voice trail off. 

“That’s why I’m here speaking with you guys,” says Content, 29. Her age and hip-hop sensibility allow her to speak to this group as peers instead of inferiors. “I could have come here and dropped off some fliers and kept it moving,” she says. “My job is to let people know about the 2010 Census and to empower them to become voices within the community.” The conversation goes on for two hours, and even then Content finds it hard to walk away.

But there is one breakthrough: “I want my daughter to go to a good school,” says Washington. “If all I got to do is fill out 10 questions, I’ll do it. Give me some Census forms now. I’ll go give them out in the ’hood.” 

The United States is the third largest country in the world, with an estimated population of 304 million. Of that number, thirteen percent, or an estimated 40 million people, categorize themselves as Black/African American/Negro—yes, the word “Negro” is still on the Census. Analysis of 2000’s Census data shows that Hispanics were missed four times as often as Whites, followed by Blacks (three times) and Asians (two times). Young Black males are one of the most under-represented groups of all.

Census forms are mailed out in March. April 1 is National Census day, a reminder to send the forms back. The next step is door-to-door follow up at households that didn’t mail back their form. All results are due to President Obama on December 31st.

New York is the most populous city in the country, home to America’s largest Black and Latino/Hispanic population (more than 2 million each). And Brooklyn is not only the most populous of the city’s five boroughs, but it’s also home to some of the hardest to count predominantly Black neighborhoods: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush, East New York and Brownsville.

As a Census Partnership Specialist, Content goes into these “hard to count” African-American and Caribbean communities, meeting with business owners, pastors, parents and young adults—anyone who might recognize the importance of filling out the 10-question survey that comes around every 10 years.

A native of Brooklyn, Content grew up and still lives in Brownsville, one of the troubled neighborhoods that she now covers. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she graduated from New York University in 2002 and has been working in public service ever since. “My parents had no money and worked hard for me to go to all Irish private schools,” she says, explaining what drives her. “That pissed me off. I never went to school in my community. I had to commute two to three neighborhoods away to go to school. Why couldn’t kids that lived in my apartment building get the same education I received?”

Jay Mobley, Program Manager of the Justice Corps, appreciates Content’s motivation. He knows it is an uphill battle. “There is a term used for this population: disconnected,” he says after the meeting. “For so long, they felt like they didn’t matter. They see politicians and none of their needs are taken into account.”