t-willard-fair_web.jpgFlorida International University

Local black leaders and organizations reject accusations by the Urban League of Greater Miami that they failed to promote the 2010 U.S. Census to Liberty City residents and to the black community generally.
“I am so tired of our leadership dropping the ball on opportunities to empower our people,” Urban League president T. Willard Fair wrote in a scathing post earlier this month on the League's “We Count Too, Miami,”(wecounttoomiami.com) website, part of an Urban League/Census partnership aimed at increasing black community participation.

Fair chastised leaders whom he said did not show up at Census planning meetings held by the city and failed to create the community-wide effort envisioned by Census organizers.

But some leaders didn't think promoting the once-a-decade national population count was their job.

“We thought it was more to do with the Urban League and the NAACP,” said Marc Henderson, historian and parliamentarian of 100 Black Men of South Florida, a mentoring and networking group primarily focused on youth.

The U.S. Constitution requires a census to determine the number of congressional seats allocated to each state. Perhaps more important, though, is that Census numbers  determine where to spend more than 400 billion federal dollars on schools, hospitals, roads and other services.

Liberty City's response rate in the 2000 Census was roughly 57 percent, about the same as this year and lagging only slightly behind Miami as a whole.

The Urban League has been the most visible community group working on the Census and Fair said black elected officials, organizations and churches failed to support attempts to obtain additional money for outreach programs.

“We have not been able to galvanize. This is disappointing to me,” Fair said in an interview after his article appeared on the We Count Too, Miami site.

Census officials agree with at least part of Fair's critique.

“It was not the Census that didn't show up, it was the black leaders who didn't do anything,” said Rafael de la Portilla, senior partnership specialist with the 2010 effort.

Other community leaders said they did what they could.

The African Heritage Cultural Arts Center provided space for training Census workers, said center director Marshall Davis, and promoted Census employment opportunities.

While agreeing that participation in the Census should be a community-wide goal, Davis said organizations like his cannot be held accountable and that people have to seek their own connections.

The city-sponsored Liberty City Trust held information sessions and forwarded emails about the Census for the people in its boundaries.

“The community needs to be educated about the census,” said Brandyss Y. Howard, the trust's spokeswoman.

Howard also echoed Fair's frustration.

“If we had strong high level officials then maybe it would have been different,” she said.


Photo: Urban League president T. Willard Fair