The census is all about PEOPLE, and I am all about people, too. I think people are fascinating. I love to observe all kinds of people. My favorite pastime is watching people. People behave in interesting ways. People come in so many different varieties, and everyone is unique and special unto themselves.
The census intrigues me because it is about people, too. But, it is about counting people, and therefore not quite my thing. But, the census count is so important! It determines our number of elected officials in Congress. It determines allocations of federal funds for everything from pothole repair to housing resources. And, it makes EVERY INDIVIDUAL matter, and by mattering, contributing to the collective whole of the country’s goodness. I get sappy about this stuff, but it is also the embodiment of the work we do in community engagement. The sum of the parts is greater than the individual parts alone, and together, we can do so much more!
In particular, the census reminds me of one particular person—Virgil G. She was an “enumerator” in the 1980 census, meaning she went door-to-door to collect responses from individuals who had lagged in completing the forms (on paper, in the olden days. Now you can do it online!). Virgil was a character from the get-go. She had a deep Alabama accent (“Al-A-Bam-Ma” pronounced in four distinct syllables) and although she had lived in Aurora for many years, she told me she never wanted to give up her accent because she never wanted to be here in the first place. Her military husband brought her here, but her heart stayed in Al-A-Bam-A.
We met doing neighborhood work, imagine that! She was the “old guard” and they wanted the “new kids” to get involved, but they couldn’t figure out exactly what that meant. I was a “new kid” and I knew exactly what the north Aurora neighborhoods needed, I thought. The NANO, North Aurora Neighborhood Association, was THE powerhouse for city politics, and most anything NANO wanted, we got.
Virgil was the spokeswoman, and Virgil knew what she wanted, too. She wanted the trash off Colfax. She wanted recycle bins all over the place, in honor of her son. I never fully understood how he died or how recycling became this brokenhearted mother’s memorial work, but I still advocate for recycling just because of her.
She wanted trash out of the alleys. That was the nugget we agreed on, the old guard and the new kids on the block. Overflowing trash bins. No trash bins. Stuff too big for trash bins. All of it. We wanted it all gone. Using the voice of the powerhouse neighborhood association, we stormed city hall with a plan to celebrate Earth Day with a neighborhood trash removal day. We got the private trash hauler to donate the trucks and drivers. We got volunteers to ride on the trucks to haul in the trash. We literally had a parade with old and young neighbors hanging on to the back of the trucks as they bounced over the potholes and curbs, stopping to fetch tons of trash and celebrating each pickup as a gem of a discovery! We worked on a Saturday from 8 AM til noon and celebrated with a real potluck, with pots and pans and cakes and stews representing the cooks’ best from all over the area. Every corner of the globe was represented! Yum!!
So when it came to the census, Virgil knew everyone. Admittedly, she knew them from the alley view rather than the front doors, but still, she knew them all! And in that Al-A-Bam-Ma accent, she convinced each and every one of the neighbors in north Aurora to trust the census count, and to help her get accurate numbers.
And I am willing to bet that is the best and most thorough count north Aurora ever had! Virgil is long deceased, sad to say. Her spirit lives on in everyone who completes the census and is counted. As she used to say “All-ya-all need to stand up and be counted to get what ya want!”
That was then, and this is now, but her words ring true regardless. Stand up and be counted! Complete your census forms online or in person or whatever works, but please stand up and be counted!
For more information about the census or to take the census, please visit 2020census.gov.