By Maria Morales, Special to the AFRO

Faith leaders from Baltimore and around the country are gearing up for the 2020 U.S. Census with the #EveryoneCounts campaign. 

A coalition of clergies and activists representing the African American, Latinx and Asian communities recently launched the census campaign, which is being spearheaded by Faith in Action (formerly PICO National Network), the nation’s largest faith-based community organizing network. 

Their goal: to increase census participation from historically undercounted populations.

Bishop Frank. M. Reid III presides over the AME’s Third Episcopal District which covers Ohio, West Virgina, and Western Pennsylvania. (Courtesy Photo)

“African American households have been undercounted for decades due to low participation in the census,” said the Rev. Alvin Herring, executive director of Faith in Action. “As people of faith, making sure all communities participate in the census is a reflection of the dignity and worth of each life.”

The clergy want their members to understand the importance of census participation. Campaign leaders will be holding conversations and providing training in congregations that serve undercounted communities. The nonpartisan, grassroots organization mobilizes through a network of 1,000 congregations of various faiths in more than 200 cities.

“We are uniquely positioned to do this work within our congregations and [through] clergy who are trusted messengers with communities of color,” said Andrea Marta, interim campaigns director for Faith in Action.

One of those trusted messengers is prominent Baltimore Bishop Frank M. Reid III, who is leading the campaign’s outreach efforts to churches both locally and nationally.

“The collection of accurate, comprehensive race and ethnicity data – as well as data on gender, age and household composition – in the census is central to implementing, monitoring and evaluating many civil rights laws and policies,” said Reid, who chairs the Social Action Commission for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. 

“It is important for communities of color and immigrants to participate and claim their equal rights of representation under the founding principles of our government,” Reid said.

Reid, who is much beloved by the local faith community,  pastored the historic Bethel A.M.E. Church in Druid Hill for more than two decades. His selection to the Bishopric in 2016 only elevated his spiritual influence beyond Baltimore.

Since January, Reid has been serving as presiding bishop of the A.M.E.’s Third Episcopal District which covers Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania. Yet he remains heavily involved in the local community and splits his time between Baltimore and his district headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. 

“Baltimore will always be home and there is much work to do,” said Reid by phone from Ohio.

Both the presidential and midterm elections are inextricably tied to the decennial census, as voting districts are formed or redrawn based on census data. How the districting lines are drawn is crucial in determining whether communities of color have fair representation at all levels of government.

Funding dollars for critical community services such as police and fire, as well as schools, healthcare, services for seniors, and infrastructure, are all based on population census data.

The impact of the census on Baltimore will be felt for decades to come. Pointing out that Baltimore City is losing population annually to neighboring counties.

“How congressional lines are drawn determines political seats and puts billions of dollars at stake, not just for the black community but the overall community,” said Reid.

He added that the poor and disenfranchised also have a stake in this census. “Our focus is on the undercounted, underserved communities,” he said. “That’s very important because the Bible speaks about what our responsibility should be to the poor.”

Reid says he is reaching out to the top leaders of other major Black denominations including A.M.E. Zion, National Baptist Convention, Progressive Baptist Convention and Church of God in Christ, so the faith community can be on one accord. He is confident he can get Black pastors and their parishioners on board, from what he sees as an “awakening” in the Black community about the census.

“In the last two censuses. African Americans have been very sensitive about the underlying racism that they feel exists with the census as a result of gentrification,” said Reid, referring to historical outcomes of “revitalizing” historically Black communities.

Reid refers to Harlem and Washington, D.C., to illustrate what he sees happening  now in the Druid Hill neighborhood where Bethel is anchored.

“Harlem was the capital of black American life until the early ‘90s when whites began moving in and now it’s completely gentrified. Chocolate City [Washington D.C.] is becoming more and more vanilla and less and less chocolate.

“The Black community has become increasingly concerned in the last 20 to 30 years about not being counted, that their voices won’t be heard and their needs as a community will not be met, as African Americans are no longer the majority minority,” said Reid.