by Aquil Charlton
In 2000, less than 50% of Chicago Lawn residents returned their Census forms to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since Census data is used to determine allocations of federal funds to the state of Illinois, which then allocates the funds to our communities, the low response rate translated to fewer dollars for federally funded programs and services, thus denying our community some of the resources it so desperately needs. IMAN believes the residents of Chicago Lawn deserve to be represented and that our community must receive funds proportional to its real population. So from October 2009 through April 2010, IMAN staff implemented a program, under the auspices of the Count Me In campaign, led by the Joyce Foundation and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), to raise the percentage of households that complete and return their Census forms by 20%.
As of the first week in May, the U.S. Census Bureau has received the bulk of the 2010 Census forms that will be used to count the number of residents in the Chicago Lawn area. As a result of IMAN’s community organizing and the efforts of our peer organizations, such as the Latino Organization of the Southwest (LOS) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), the count in Chicago Lawn increased by as much as 37% in some parts of the community. This increase sends a message that the residents of Chicago Lawn want to be represented in state funding formulas. It also translates to nearly $12,000 in federal funds per household over the next 10 years.
IMAN’s work to increase the number of households in the Chicago Lawn community that complete and return their 2010 Census forms has leveraged more than just federal dollars. The significant involvement of local residents and leaders has created powerful connections between us and our neighbors and a greater sense of collective accountability for the sustainability of our community. As a result of our Census organizing, IMAN engaged more than 50 volunteers from Chicago Lawn who made contact with over 2,000 neighbors, substantially deepening our relationships with local leaders and residents. These volunteers received stipends for their work and learned principles and strategies for community organizing. These resources and relationships will be invaluable in the future for IMAN as it continues to organize around issues important to its community.