Black Census Summit gives hard-to-count communities resources to ensure a fair an equitable Census

Produced by: 
Air date: 
Fri, 02/28/2020 - 5:15pm
More Images: 


The 2020 Census is a present issue for people across the U.S., and the threat of an undercount of the population can have real consequences. Census dollars are tied to population, and an undercount can result in less federal funding for the state. There are a number of hard to count populations in Oregon and around the country, including Black people, Indigenous people, People of color, immigrants, refugees, young children and the elderly.

To try to combat the potential undercount on Saturday, February 29, the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) is partnering with #WeCountOregon to offer the Black Census Summit.

The Summit will be an opportunity for people who identify as African American, Black, African, or who are of African descent to learn more about the Census process and become advocates for a proper count in their communities. To expand accessibility, the Summit will also provide childcare and translation services.

KBOO’s Althea Billings spoke with Ray Mayer, the Census Equity Manager with PAALF about the Black Census Summit and the importance of including hard-to-count communities in the 2020 Census.

Event Details: Black Census Summit on Saturday, February 29th from 9 am to 4:30 pm at the New Song Community Center, at 220 Northeast Russel Street in Portland

Download audio file


Audio Transcript

Althea Billings  0:00  
So we have in studio today with us Ray Mayer, the Census Equity Manager with the Portland African American Leadership Forum. The Leadership Forum is joining with #We Count Oregon and a number of other groups to offer the Black Census Summit this weekend. Thank you for being here, Ray.

Ray Mayer  0:15  
Thank you for inviting me. I was so excited to be here and talk more about the summit and the campaign and the Census!

Althea Billings  0:22  
Sweet. So yeah, let's start by talking about the census itself. It's taken every 10 years and it endeavours to count every person who's residing in the United States. And in turn those you know, people counts are used for a lot of really important things, but one of them has to do with political representation.

Ray Mayer  0:39  
Definitely. I mean, it is a count of all living people. But what we find happening with the census is that there are hard to count communities. So the We Count Oregon campaign is working to make sure that these communities get counted. So hard to count communities need more in person engagement before they take the census. So the amount of money that we get from the federal government is directly tied to the content we have. We want to make sure everybody's counted in Oregon. And that's the work that we're doing on the We Count Oregon campaign.

Althea Billings  1:08  
Right. And so what are those ramifications if the population isn't counted correctly?

Ray Mayer  1:15  
For every person that doesn't get counted, that's $3200 per person for the next 10 years. That equals to about $13 billion for the state of Oregon. And Oregon as a state, a lot of our budget comes from that federal dollars. We need that. And census dollars is tied to the quality of life. You we all use census dollars, even if we don't think about it, the roads that you use, right? Programs at school, the hospitals that we use, SNAP, Medicaid, Section Eight vouchers...

Althea Billings  1:48  
And so you mentioned hard to count populations who is included in those populations?

Ray Mayer  1:52  
Yes, hard to count communities include Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, refugees, houseless people, children under five. You know, people often think you don't need to count children under five or the elderly, but they need to get counted too. And newborns need to get counted if that baby was born after the first of April, count the baby.

Althea Billings  2:16  
Right. And so, I mean, I guess let's talk about the converse. What is the significance of an equitable and fair Census? What do we get if we get that?

Ray Mayer  2:25  
Yeah, well, you know, when the Census first started in 1790, not everybody was counted in the same way. And so the census today is a tool for our communities to use to show that we are here. We live here, we love here, we thrive here in the state of Oregon, right? I mean, this is our chance to rewrite the narrative of what the state of Oregon looks like. There is a certain narrative an idea of, you know, who lives in Oregon, right? But the Census, that data gets used to say, who lives in Oregon and we- and we want to make sure that we- we portray the picture of the vibrancy of communities of color, you know that they are really the heart and soul of the state of Oregon and they deserve to be accurately counted and accurately represented.

Althea Billings  3:10  
So with all that said, tell us about this event. What is the Black Census Summit? 

Ray Mayer  3:14  
The Black Census Summit is a part of our summit tour. So the We Count Oregon campaign right now we are in our education phase, and a part of that phase, are summits. So we had our Native summit, we had two Latinx summits. Great success, and we're so excited about the Black Census Summit, which is happening during Black History Month. It's the last day and it's just a day, it's a day of community music and food and Census training. So this is a chance for community members to become ambassadors of the campaign. You know, we are embarking on a very ambitious project and this project is to count every single hard to count person in the state of Oregon. But we need your help. We need ambassadors to help us get the word out, do the trainings. Remember, for hard to count communities, it's all about in person engagement, right? Talk to people about the Census. And when you come to the Black Census Summit we'll give you all the tools that you need to mobilize communities and to make sure that your community gets counted.

Althea Billings  4:16  
What is the experience of the Census for hard to count populations without ambassadors that you're training?

Ray Mayer  4:22  
Yeah, so, you know, there's just a lot of, especially in the Black community is a lot of fear around the census, right? For- for good reason. But people are scared that, you know, the government can use your information against you. People are afraid that you know, your information can be shared with your landlord, but there's actually something called Title 13 that protects your information. And it's- it's one of the strongest laws, it's ironclad, you know, enumerators they take oaths that they will not share your information for 72 years, and if they do, they can face a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine of up to 250 thousand dollars or both. Your information is safe, it will not get shared with any authorities. It's illegal for them to do so. And that's really the message that we're trying to push. It's- it is safe to take the Census.

Althea Billings  5:13  
Yeah. And so you addressed this a little bit, but I want to get at what is the importance of training people who identify as African American, Black, African or who are of African descent in the Census?

Ray Mayer  5:22  
Yes, so whether this campaign is a community led campaign, so we are outside of the US Census Bureau and we, we are working in the communities we understand how to talk to our communities, we-we don't want to talk down to them, we want to connect to them and engage with him, right? It's important that we have these ambassadors come from the community because they are what we call trusted messengers. And trusted messengers are really the people that is going to get the word out for that in person engagement, to talk to people about taking the Census. You know, our ideal outcome of this is that before- we want everyone to take the Census, but we know that before hard to count communities take it, they need that in person engagement. And that's why we need ambassadors. And it's- a it's- a chance to become a part of a historical campaign. This work has never been done in the state of Oregon. It's being led by Black and Indigenous women of color. And this is a chance for people to be to become a part of this history making campaign.

Althea Billings  6:25  
That's awesome. And so what do you hope attendees get out of this training?

Ray Mayer  6:29  
So the week on Oregon campaign is a community lead campaign, and we outside of the US Census Bureau, and it's a coalition of about 13, Black and brown led organizations across the state. And, you know, the exciting thing is that each of these organizations are going to be hiring Census field teams. So we're going to be looking for Census organizers, and this is really a chance for folks to make a difference in the community to get the word out about the Census. So PAALF will be hiring Census field team. Our hiring event is coming up and again for information about the summit and for information about hiring and any other opportunities,  please go to that's 

It's a day long training, it's a day of community will give you all the tools that you need will give you all the resources, the materials, the presentations, the scripts, everything that you could possibly need to go out into trainings in your community about the Census. You'll be plugged in to the campaign. We will- we will have spokesperson trainings, Ambassador trainings, trainings around what is the Census, We'll speak about frequent Frequently Asked Questions-- FAQs, we'll speak about talking points. At the end of the summit, you know, you won't just leave feeling good being in community and feeling good, eating food from Keys Loaded Kitchen and Everybody Eats PDXs. You will leave with a folder of information that you can use to do your own get out the count campaign.

Althea Billings  8:01  
You know, in anticipation of the upcoming Census, Oregon is expected to get another seat in the US House of Representatives as a result of population growth. How does that potential new addition play into the conversation around an equitable Census taking?

Ray Mayer  8:15  
Yeah, so we missed that seat in 2010 by such a small margin. And there is an expected 450,000 new residents in the state of Oregon. If we get everybody counted, we can get that seat, an extra seat equals more representation. And it's another chance for our voices to be heard. You know, hard to count communities don't often have a chance for the voices to be heard and don't often have a chance for political- political representation, right. But we want to change that. And the Census is one of the ways that we can do that, the Census is one of the ways that we can shift power. So it's so important to get an accurate and complete count, because that's what makes the Census equitable and just. A just and equitable Census means that everyone is counted, and everyone is counted fairly and equally.

Althea Billings  9:06  
Is there anything else you'd like to impart to our listeners today?

Ray Mayer  9:09  
Yes, Census day is on one April 2020. It's also my birthday. Hey, if you would like Ray to have happy birthday, please take the Census. So starting in March, you'll get Census mailings, and that mailing will tell you exactly what you need to do to take the Census. On your mailing, you'll have your unique Census ID. And that's really all that you need to take the Census. This year, it's exciting. It's the first time we can take the Census online, but you can still take the Census by mail or by phone. And the week on Oregon campaign also has Census Assistance Centers, CACs, throughout the state, and those folks are trained to assist you to take the Census. It's accessible to take it it's safe to take it. It's easy to take it the questions have stayed the same 10 questions, 10 minutes. It's on my birthday, there's really no reason not to take it. And we really are encouraging folks to to take the Census around Census day. The earlier you take it, the less likely it is that an enumerator will show up at your door. We have an amazing website you can go to And on their website you can find toolkits for for talking to different communities. Also something that you can do right now is pledged to get counted and what that means is that you are making a promise to take the Census. So all you have to do is go to your text messages. type in the word Oregon. That's the state that we live in to 33339 and then you can take a pledge, you'll get a text message and then you can fill out a little form and we promise not to spam you will send you one or two messages a month and you can opt out at any time. So again, pledge to get counted text the word Oregon to 33339. Take this Census! Make sure we count so that we can get these these dollars and we can get this power.

Althea Billings  11:04  
Well, Ray, I'd like to thank you so much for being here with us today.

Ray Mayer  11:07  
Thank you so much for having me. It was great to talk about the Census, the Black Census Summit is gonna be dope. I hope to see you there. And I hope everyone listening to this is feeling inspired to talk to hard to count communities about the Census, because we are all connected and linked and our quality of life is intertwined. We all live here, love here and thrive here in the state of Oregon. So let's show them what makes Oregon such an amazing state to live in.

Althea Billings  11:35  
Awesome. So we've been speaking with Ray Mayer, the Census Equity Manager for the Portland African American Leadership Forum, which is joining with #We Count Oregon and other groups to offer the Black Census Summit. The summit will be held on Saturday February 29, from 9am to 4:30pm, at the New Song Community Center at 220 North East Russell Street in Portland. More information can be found on their website at For KBOO Evening News, I'm Althea Billings.

Transcribed by