Commercials for the 2020 U.S. Census have been all over the internet, television and the radio airwaves of late with the April 1 “Census Day” fast approaching.
There are many questions as to why people should participate in the census, what are the benefits of cooperating, who does the counting and where will my family’s information go?
Those questions and more were answered by a panel of experts and interested parties Thursday night at the midtown headquarters of local radio stations, V-103 and 1380 WAOK, both of whom are under the Entercom Atlanta umbrella.
The panel invited to event included a who’s who of the politically-invested, locally-interested and census-educated, including Michael C. Cook, Sr., the chief public information officer for the U.S. Census Bureau; Ryan Wilson, co-founder and CEO of The Gathering Spot; Luisa Cardona, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; and Marvin Arrington, Fulton County District 5 Commissioner.
The evening began with a quick welcome by Entercom Senior Vice President and Atlanta Market Manager Rick Caffey, who tried to sum up why everyone was either in attendance or watching online via the live stream.
“We are trying to provide information to our community,” said Caffey. “Every now and then we also get the opportunity to provide inspiration as well. We need to talk about how we need to stand up and be counted.”
The event was hosted by a pair of popular radio personalities, V-103’s Big Tigger and 1380 WAOK morning news host Maria Boynton.
Both took turns asking the panel guests questions and engaging with the 20-plus people in attendance.
Among the crowd were invited guests with interests in the census and what it can do for their parties of interest. Amos King, Founder of Justice for Veterans, asked what vehicle would the US Census Bureau use to get the message to veterans in Atlanta and throughout the state?
King, who called his organization “a watchdog for veterans,” particularly wanted to know what could be done to inform veterans that were living in shelters and were homeless.
“What are you going to count them?” he asked.
Cook, who is based in Washington, D.C. but was in Atlanta on census business, reassured King that, “The veterans will be counted.”
He went on to inform King and the crowd that the census Bureau was going to have three nights where they visit soup kitchens, homeless shelters and under bridges in order to attempt to have a more accurate count of citizens that may not necessarily be living in homes or apartments.
Asked about the sensitivity of the information the Census is looking to receive by a crowd member, King explained to the audience that the sensitive information is held for 72 years and is encrypted, thus protecting it from cyber-attacks
Also, the physical forms that come to people’s homes are destroyed not long after being tabulated by census staff members according to King.
“(The Census) takes place every 10 years, in years that end in zero,” King said.
Cardona answered a number of questions from both the moderators and the crowd and took time to tell her own personal story of why the census is important to her having come from an immigrant family.
“We have the second-fastest foreign grown population in the country and children that are Black and brown are one of the most under-counted groups,” said Cardona of Atlanta. “We need resources that our county deserves and being counted accurately can help towards getting those resources.”
Wilson added, “We live in really tough political times, but this is a simple conversation that we need to have. I know it’s hard to make being counted cool but Black men are the most under-counted groups in the entire state (of Georgia).”
Boynton, who engaged with the crowd throughout the town hall meeting, walked to third row of seats inside the Entercom Atlanta performance space with a microphone to ask Dan Ford, the president of the Atlanta Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Alumni Alliance what he wanted to know about the importance of the census to his constituents.
Ford said, “I’m going to channel my college self for a second and ask as a college kid why would I care about the census and how does that help my college?”
Cardona informed him that the city of Atlanta created a Collegiate Complete Count Committee.
“I know when we were in college and we didn’t think long-term, it’s hard, but if you think 10 years from now when you want to buy a house, you think you’re going to make all these big plans, all that information that is being collected (April 1) is going to be used for that. It’s hard to think ahead but we need to try to.”
Arrington added that Fulton County is awarded between $1,200-$1,800 per person.
“This gives the county the opportunity to provide additional resources,” he said. “The county is also able to use that money for other programs
Representatives from the Caribbean Association of Georgia and the Caribbean Chamber of Commerce of Georgia also voiced concerns about fears their members may have with giving out their information.
“The main concern of the Caribbean community is the possibility of being deported,” said Jackie Watson, founder of the Caribbean Association of Georgia. “They are not trusting who is in the White House and they don’t know what will happen with the information once they provide it.”
Cardona spoke about the Mayor’s office fighting in court to no longer have a citizenship question on documents like the census and spoke on that office’s behalf.
“We acknowledge that there is a fear and this fear is valid, we will do absolutely everything to defend that information,” Cardona said. “We will continue going to court should that happen, but I know the Census Bureau won’t allow that to happen.”