Where Baltimore City officials have received some of the blame for 2000’s census failure is where local NAACP president Marvin Cheatham says faith-based organizations can make a difference. Many underserved communities were not reached in the prior census, leaving thousands of residents uncounted and millions of dollars missing from the city over a 10-year period. This time around, Cheatham said, it is imperative for faith-based leaders to be involved.
“If you don’t have a significant number of the faith-based leaders involved in the census then we fail again because they get to more people than all of us do,” Cheatham said. “We must be inundated with ministers in this whole process. We need their leadership.”
During the last two meetings of the city’s census coalition, Cheatham said he did not see any ministers in attendance. But several church leaders have voiced their commitment to impressing the survey’s importance among their congregations.
The Rev. Dr. Bowyer Freeman heads the New St. Mark Baptist Church in West Baltimore. He is also an officer of the Baptist United Missionary Convention of Maryland, which he said has been actively emphasizing the significance of the census.
“We cannot make anyone participate but you need to make an informed decision and we are hopeful that your decision [is to participate],” Bowyer said. “We have to educate and that’s the role of the church in reference to things that impact us in the community. The church is still playing a strategic role in educating and informing its constituents to the importance of the census.”
Because churches see their members at least once a week, Bowyer said they have a greater opportunity to reach the community than other organizations. He would like to see more funding designated for healthcare, education and job training in Baltimore City, which federal dollars could supply if more people return census surveys this year.
“The census relates to Congress reapportionment and the redistribution of dollars,” he said. “When we’re not counted, we lose congressionally as well as fiscally. When we participate, we gain financially.”
New Psalmist Baptist Church has forged a collaborative effort with the Census Bureau, said the Rev. Alfred Bailey, minister of missions and outreach. They would like needed resources and career opportunities to reach deserving communities if the census return rate increases this year.
“It is our hope that our community is empowered as a result of the 2010 census,” Bailey said.
Mt. Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Church has been distributing booklets on the 2010 census and has members designated to assist in the completion process. Earnest Hines heads their men’s ministry and is concerned with the political leverage Baltimore City could lose or gain, depending on the census results.
“Lots of other [groups of people] are completing the census and getting credit more so than we are as a race of people,” Hines said. “If folks don’t complete the census, we could become almost an irrelevant group of people relative to the things that go on in the community. It’s important when you start thinking politically about realignment in areas where, historically, we have been strong.”