NEWARK, NJ — The city hosted high school seniors from across the region for a special Census Awareness Day event on Saturday, leveraging a partnership with the Urban League Guild of Essex County and the New Jersey chapters of the Urban League Young Professionals as part of an ongoing effort to ensure Newark is counted in the 2020 census. 

Held at Rutgers-Newark Business School, the event invited students to learn about college choices along with census job opportunities through a day of workshops, orientations and activities. The city hopes it can influence more parents to participate in the census by educating youth.  

Lolitta Kirby, president of the Essex County branch of Urban League, said that as part of the NJ Census Awareness Day event, participating students were asked to compete in a video contest demonstrating the importance of the census. The winners will have a chance to appear in the city’s upcoming census commercial. 

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“For our programming, the idea is to make it fun and engaging, especially for young people. We have completed mixers where we communicate [information about the census] to youth. It’s about unity,” Kirby said. 

Deputy Mayor of Community Engagement Jacqueline Quiles said engaging the young people of Newark is an essential piece of the city’s strategy to improve historically low census return rates. In 2010, Newark mustered only 53% in overall census completion compared to 65% for Essex County and about 75% for the state, according to the United States Census Bureau. 

Newark, like nearly a quarter of New Jersey’s cities, is defined as “hard to count” due to population size and scope. People of color, low-income households, young children, immigrants and individuals who are homeless are disproportionately undercounted, resulting in less political power and millions of dollars in federal funding left on the table. 

“We have a board that is working throughout the city to ensure we get the numbers, especially with the students here. We want to make sure the students understand that and that Newark needs its fair share,” Quiles said. “Young people are the future of our city.”

Quiles and city Business Administrator Michael Greene serve as the mayoral appointees for the city’s Complete Count Committee (CCC), which is one of 27 local commissions driving home targeted outreach efforts across New Jersey’s “hard to count” cities. New Jersey chapters of the Urban League, a national civil rights organization, act as sub-committee within the Newark CCC, whose logo was designed by Newark students as a reflection of the city’s initiative to include youth in its outreach efforts.

This go-round, Newark is relying on pillars of its own community, such as churches, social clubs, and libraries, to destigmatize the census, which initially had a question about citizenship until it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court over the summer. Even though the question is no longer on the Census, advocates worry that undocumented Newarkers will still be discouragaged from filling it out, especially those who think it is still on the form. 

Since many children of undocumented individuals serve as interpreters for their parents, Quiles said that she hopes targeting young people will help bolster participation from the city’s various Latinx communities. 

“The message is for us to be undercounted, and we are not going to allow that to happen. We’re going to make sure we are heard and that the community understands Title XIII protects them. It’s a battle, but if we work through it, we can get the right numbers,” Quiles said. 

The city has also partnered with Newark Public Schools to spread awareness and pique students’ interest through college and job fair opportunities. Quiles added that on Census Day, all Newark public schools will be open for parents to go to and fill out the census. 

For a city like Newark, whose schools are seeking $37 million in emergency state aid for maintenance and repairs, the stakes are high when it comes to securing an accurate census count and the monies that accompany it. Monique Fletcher, president of Urban League of Hudson County and a teacher at Newark’s North Star Academy, said that overhearing students say that neither they nor their parents know what the census reminds her of the importance of events like the one held Saturday. 

“If they’re not understanding the benefit of the census, we already have a roadblock. Having events like this, keeping it social and keeping it fun, combines a good time with discussion about the benefits of the census to our livelihood,” Fletcher said.