More than 100 racial justice groups, led by a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, are making a last push on a large-scale survey that will be the basis for a public policy agenda focused on the needs of Black people who often are not as engaged in conventional public polling and opinion research.
It’s called the Black Census Project, but the activists working on it say it’s not meant to duplicate the once-a-decade federal population count from a couple years ago.
“We’re often the subject of symbolic engagement, whether that’s plates of soul food or the latest dance craze, but very rarely do our communities get asked what it is that we’re dealing with every day, as it relates to the economy, our democracy, our society,” said Alicia Garza, a BLM co-founder who is principal and founder of the Black Futures Lab, a public policy nonprofit.
Since February, when Garza’s organization launched the project, canvassers have gone into Black communities in nearly every U.S. state to conduct the confidential, self-reporting survey, which is also available online. The survey, which takes about 10 minutes, asks participants their views on political representation in both parties, racial justice issues and the coronavirus pandemic, among other topics.
If the goal of 250,000 survey responses is reached by the Dec. 31 deadline, it would be the largest surveying of Black people of any kind in U.S. history, Garza said.
“For us, the Black census was a way to just be really scientific when we’re talking about what Black people care about, what Black people want, and even who Black people are going to vote for and why,” she said.
As part of the last push of the survey, organizers said they have engaged with interfaith leaders for what they’re calling Black Census Sunday. Faith leaders will include Black census information in their sermons and offer opportunities for people to complete the surveys during services.
Early next year, Black Futures Lab plans to share findings with the Biden administration and other elected officials to offer insight into the needs of Black people and how to address them.
In 2018, the inaugural Black Census Project surveyed over 30,000 Black people from around the U.S. The survey findings were revealed in a report, which highlighted the experiences and viewpoints of the Black LGBTQ community.
This year, organizers aimed to garner at least six times that number, aided by partnerships with dozens of well-known and legacy social justice organizations, including the NAACP, Color of Change, the National Action Network, Black Voters Matter and the Black Women’s Roundtable.
Bridgette Simpson, co-founder of Barred Business, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated Black women and girls find stable housing, employment and educational opportunities, is a Black Census Project partner. Having served 10 years in prison herself, Simpson said the project has been intentional about reaching people who have experienced incarceration.
“(Black people) are not a monolith,” she said. “We all are different and we all have different experiences. But in order for us to really be able to get the changes that we need in our community, we need to be able to know who we are, to see the gamut, and then be able to transfer this into true political power.”
Simpson’s hope is that the survey increases the profile of formerly incarcerated people, so that politicians and elected leaders see them as a constituency worth courting.
“Without a process like this, it is impossible for us to have any seat at the table,” she said.
“We can bring all the seats that we want, but it won’t be at the right table. So with the census and other data efforts, we’re able to set a table where we can properly eat.”
The Black Census Project launched just before the U.S. Census Bureau revealed in March that Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents were missed at higher rates during the 2020 census than they were a decade ago. The federal census figures help determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year, which can be especially critical in Black and Latino communities that historically contend with underinvestment and underfunding of public resources such as education and infrastructure.
Garza said her project has always been about empowering Black communities by providing an alternative to the data sources that governments rely on.
“One way for us to decolonize data and decolonize polling is to decenter white people and their opinions about it,” she said. “This project is about us, by us and for us. It’s more important for us that Black people are talking to each other about what we are going to do to flex our power.”