"On the Front Lines:" NYC Census 2020 and Black Front-line Workers Fighting COVID-19 Launch Campaign to Count All New Yorkers in the 2020 Census

NYC Census 2020 and BRIC partner to feature Black front-line workers speaking directly to their fellow New Yorkers about the money, power, and respect that is owed to New York City's communities.

NEW YORK - NYC Census 2020, in partnership with BRIC, has launched "On the Front Lines", a multimedia video, social media, and print campaign that features six Black New Yorkers who are front-line workers that have kept the city fed, safe, moving, and protected from COVID-19, speaking to New Yorkers in their own words about the critical importance of the census in keeping our healthcare, housing, transportation, and education systems fully funded and operational, both now and into the future.

In speaking directly about the census being the basis on which New York City -- and Black communities in particular -- can obtain the money, power, and respect they are rightfully owed, the campaign seeks to underscore the importance of the census to the city's future, in particular for a community that has been historically been significantly undercounted in the census.

"In order for the census to fulfill its true function as being the foundational exercise that allows for the functioning of our democracy and the equitable distribution of money and power across all 50 states, it is imperative that all Black and Brown communities in New York City participate in it," said J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. "If there is an undercount in the 2020 Census, there's a real risk that New York State will lose representation in Congress and our fair share of $1.5 trillion in funding for education, housing, healthcare, and so much more. By participating, we will not allow racist or xenophobic attempts to manipulate the census against us to be successful."

"The fight for civil rights and equity is not over. The census can be an instrument of justice, if – and only if – all New Yorkers are counted," said NYC Census Director Julie Menin and Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel, NYC Law Department. "The census is about money and power for Black communities, which have a long history of being undercounted in the census. The "On the Front Lines" campaign is the manifestation of our mission -- to ensure that Black communities across New York City get the resources and the representation they are owed."

"From COVID-19 to criminal justice, recent events have highlighted the countless injustices and inequities that Black New Yorkers face every day, and made clear how much work we still have to do as a City and a nation in the ongoing fight for civil rights," said Acting HRA Administrator Gary Jenkins. "Now, more than ever, it is vital that we listen to and hear the Black community, as we work to uplift and empower all of our most marginalized neighbors. The Census ensures that communities of color are represented in government and beyond and provided the resources they need and deserve to build a stronger and more equitable New York City."

"Throughout history, black and brown participation in the Census has been limited. Today, NYC is leading the way in ensuring our communities are counted in the census and thereby receive the full amount of federal funds they deserve," said Jordan Stockdale, Executive Director of the Young Men's Initiative. "It is quite simple; filling out the census will provide our communities with millions of dollars that increase opportunities for our young people, provide services to the elderly and strengthen our neighborhood infrastructure."

"Getting counted in the Census remains a powerful tool to ensure our continued cries for justice and change for Black New Yorkers are met with money, increased representation, and meaningful investments in community resources," said Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of NYC Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. "For too long, Black New Yorkers, including Black immigrant New Yorkers have been undercounted in the census, and it's left our communities underfunded and underrepresented. As we fight on for justice and equity, we cannot forget that the 2020 Census is central to this fight. Every New Yorker–regardless of background, immigration status, age, or what language you speak–can get counted."

"As an arts and media organization committed to civic action, we recognize the fundamental importance of accurate representation in the census, especially among Black communities," said Kristina Newman-Scott, BRIC's President. "We are proud to work with the NYC Census 2020 team on this campaign to centralize the voices of the city's Black essential workers."

In 2010, many majority-Black neighborhoods in New York City, from The Bronx to Queens to Brooklyn, had census self-response rates that were 10 or more percentage points behind the citywide average, meaning that these communities have been missing out on millions of dollars for critical services and the full political representation they are entitled to, from City Hall to the halls of Congress.

Though this gap has noticeably narrowed for many of the same neighborhoods this year, and certain Black-majority neighborhoods, such as Co-op City in The Bronx (69%) and Starrett City in Brooklyn (64%), far outpace the citywide average of approximately 53% (as of June 29), much more work needs to be done to ensure New York City receives its fair share of $1.5 trillion in federal funds every year and does not lose what could be up to two congressional seats. Other Black-majority neighborhoods, such as Wakefield in The Bronx, Jamaica in Queens, and Canarsie in Brooklyn, currently have self-response rates at just over 45 percent, approximately eight percentage points behind the citywide average.

The campaign emphasizes the importance of New Yorkers self-responding immediately, as self-response data is vastly more accurate and complete than data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau's door-to-door enumerators, who commence their operations in approximately six weeks. It has never been easier to self-respond to the census than in 2020, when it is available both online and via phone for the first time, at my2020census.gov or at 844-330-2020.

"Black New Yorkers have been undercounted in the Census for far too long," said Marco A. Carrión, Commissioner of the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit. "Ensuring our Black neighbors are counted gives us the ability to fight for the resources our historically marginalized communities deserve."

"The inaugural census in 1790 denied the humanity of Black Americans and belied their contributions in the creation of our country and its freedoms. It has taken centuries to arrive at the 10 questions we have now, and although they are imperfect, these 10 questions on the census provide the keys to unlock the pathway to recovery from the pandemic of the COVID virus and the epidemic of systematic racism that has denied agency to the Pan-African communities in America," said Kathleen Daniel, Field Director, NYC Census 2020. "This ad campaign demonstrates our position on the front lines and affirms our roles as equal partners in the architecture of our future."

On the Front Lines: The Workers

My name is Thierno and I'm a courier
My name is Tabytha and I'm a TGNB educator
My name is Alpha and I'm a driver
My name is Verna and I'm a housing administrator
My name is Ebony and I'm a doctor

"If we fill out the census, we have a better opportunity to get equity, financial equity, and educational equity, and equity is how you advance yourself," said Dr. Ebony, an adolescent medicine specialist who works in the Bronx and lives in Harlem in the campaign.

"This is what my community looks like, these are the numbers that go with it, this is the help that we need….if we're not counted (in the census), then we don't exist," said Izzie, a teacher in the campaign.

"Your neighbors need you out there – your friends, family. We need each other. If we help each other (and complete the census), it makes it easy," said Alpha, a driver from West Africa who currently resides in Harlem in the campaign.

"We owe it to ourselves to fill out this census. This is how our voices will be heard. We owe it to each other," said Tabytha, a TGNB educator in the campaign.

"You are somebody because you are counted...fill out the census and be counted. Let the world know that our community is here," said Verna, an Administrative Housing Superintendent who works in NYCHA's Emergency Services Department in the campaign.

The Census and Black Communities: An Ignoble History

Though today the census serves as the very basis for each community to be able to empower itself to be able to obtain the money, power, and respect that it is rightfully owed and entitled to by the U.S. Constitution, the census has been used by a racist system and power structure to oppress and disenfranchise.

In the earliest days of the nation, as an appeasement to southern states, the census counted each enslaved Black American as only "Three-Fifths" of a human being, a shameful and dehumanizing practice that continued until the abolishment of slavery. During the Reconstruction era, the census categorized and classified Americans based on the purported amount of "racial blood" possessed, which enabled government and private society to further bolster a racist hierarchy in which the "more" Black blood possessed, the lower one's social, political, and economic status.

In the Jim Crow era, participation in the census was suppressed under threat of violence or death, on the basis of the idea that if Black Americans were to be fully represented in census figures, that they could, in theory, receive the empowerment they were due, a non-starter for the segregationist and racist ideology enshrined in American society and government policy and procedure at the time, particularly in the South.

The census continued to be used as a tool of oppression through the World War II era when census data was used to arrest and intern hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans in prison camps. Following the War, a national reckoning with the manipulation of the census for nefarious political means led to reimaging of the census through Title XIII of the U.S. Code, which established the complete confidentiality of the all census data, and made the sharing of any such data by the Census Bureau with anyone - including any other government agency, law enforcement, or private entity - a serious crime. Today, this crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Since the passage of these provisions in the early 1950s, there is no evidence of them having been broken.

The relationship between the census and Black communities began to somewhat shift in the Civil Rights era, as exemplified by the decision by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to Congress, to choose to be a census-taker in New York City in the early days of her career in public service. Her experience as an enumerator in 1970 shaped her visionary outlook as a congresswoman and as the first Black woman to run for president. In 1970, many Black and Brown residents in New York City refused to answer census takers as they were scared that answering census responses could render them as targets. Many enumerators quit that year, but for Chisholm, as a daughter of immigrants from Barbados, she was able to relate to these sentiments and was able to gain the trust of individual New Yorkers who were fearful of the census.

Despite the implementation of Title XIII, because of the census' problematic and oppressive history with Black Americans, there has been a lack of trust in the census' ability to deliver on its promise among Black communities, and the census has, as a result, continued to significantly undercount Black populations across the country.

"For too long, the census has disproportionately undercounted communities of color, and therefore, our "On the Front Lines" campaign will focus on ensuring Black and brown New Yorkers are fully represented to get the federal funding support they need and deserve," said Jennifer Jones Austin, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of FPWA. "For this 2020 census, we are putting an end to myths and scare tactics that have long precluded our community from participating and will focus on community empowerment to prevent the undercounting and underserving of hard working New Yorkers."

"During this critical inflection point in our national discourse around race and justice, one of the simplest and most powerful actions our communities can take to be seen and heard is completing the Census", said Lurie Daniel-Favors, Esq, Interim Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. "Completing the census ensures that our communities get their fair share of federal dollars and political representation. That federal funding includes money for hospitals and other emergency services, an urgent need for under resourced communities of color laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic. The City's 'On the frontlines' campaign captures the voices of our essential workers, reminding us of their courage and sacrifice and underscoring the importance of Black New Yorkers and their vital roles as part of the City's vibrant tapestry. Black lives matter, and completing the Census is a gear in the system that we must turn in order to ensure we have a more equitable and just future."

"When we talk about demanding racial equity and social justice, we know that there is no more important act that Black New Yorkers can make RIGHT NOW, than to respond to the 2020 Census," said Sheena Wright, President & CEO, United Way of New York City. "We are proud to be partnered with Julie Menin and the entire NYC Census team, and we recognize the import of activating Black New Yorkers specifically. The "On The Front Lines" campaign highlights their critical work for this City, and is a clarion Call To Action to ensure that communities of color receive the Money, Power and Respect that they deserve."

"On the Front Lines:" Media

The campaign has already run for two weeks on television, and close to 80 percent of NYC Census 2020's television buy for the month June was dedicated to the campaign. In July, more than 30 percent of NYC Census' digital ad budget will be dedicated to the campaign, with ads in English, French (for West African populations), Kreyol, and Spanish. NYC Census 2020 will also continue its commitment to community and ethnic media with ads in more than 150 community and ethnic publications in July. More than 20 percent of these publications are written by and for Black communities, and this share of the outlets will also feature the ad campaign.

To date, NYC Census 2020 has launched 15 paid campaigns. Campaigns have launched in 26 languages across television, radio, outdoor installations, 175+ print and digital community and ethnic media publications, and digital ads across 7 types of digital and mobile ad mediums. In addition to community-driven campaigns like "On the Front Lines," NYC Census 2020 has also previously released PSAs featuring artists, celebrities, and public figures with strong ties to New York City, including singer Alicia Keys, rapper Cardi B, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Late Night host Seth Meyers, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. These PSAs are part of a strategy to reach historically undercounted New Yorkers and encourage people to self-respond to the census online or via phone, especially during COVID-19.

Important Facts about the 2020 Census:

  • The census is safe, easy, and important—and completely confidential. If your landlord rents your apartment illegally, your response cannot be used against you or your landlord in any way. There is no citizenship question or question about your immigration status on the census.
  • The census is available online and by phone this year: my2020census.gov and 844-468-2020. You can complete your census from anywhere. You do not need a census form to fill out the census. All you need is your address to start the process at my2020census.gov.

About NYC Census 2020

NYC Census 2020 is a first-of-its-kind organizing initiative established by Mayor de Blasio in January 2019 to ensure a complete and accurate count of all New Yorkers in the 2020 Census. The $40 million program is built on four pillars: (1) a $19 million community-based awards program, The New York City Complete Count Fund, empowering 157 community-based organizations to engage historically undercounted communities around the 2020 Census; (2) an in-house "Get Out the Count" field campaign supported by the smart use of cutting-edge data and organizing technology, and a volunteer organizing program to promote a complete count in each of the city's 245 neighborhoods; (3) an innovative, multilingual, tailored messaging and marketing campaign, including a $3 million commitment to investing in community and ethnic media to reach every New York City community; as well as (4) an in-depth Agency and Partnerships engagement plan that seeks to leverage the power of the City's 350,000-strong workforce and the city's major institutions, including libraries, hospitals, faith-based communities, cultural institutions, higher educational institutions, and more, to communicate with New Yorkers about the critical importance of census participation. Through close partnerships with trusted leaders and organizations across the five boroughs, this unprecedented campaign represents the largest municipal investment in census organizing nationwide and will build an enduring structure that empowers New Yorkers to remain civically engaged.