1.16.2010

Houston town hall meeting addresses "Negro business" and urges Blacks to still fill out 2010 census form

(Panelists address the word 'Negro' and the importance of the census)

by Jesse Muhammad

The use of the word 'Negro' on the 2010 U.S. Census questionnaire sparked a recent town hall meeting in Houston held at the Judson Robinson community center to discuss its impact and the need for Blacks to still participate in the census process.

Council Member Wanda Adams, who co-chairs the Houston Counts Committee, urged the predominately Black audience to not "let that word deter us" at the January 14 forum.

"For every person who does not take the census, that is potentially $1500 dollars loss," said Council Member Adams. "Let's get our money here in Houston. We stand to get millions in federal funding plus a new Congressional seat and two City Council positions. Let's participate."

(Houston Council Member Wanda Adams)

Houston Counts is a City of Houston grassroots, community-based awareness program highlighting the importance of being counted in the 2010 Census.

Although he agreed that Blacks should still participate in the census, activist Quanell X asked "Who in this room has actually looked up the word 'Negro'? It comes from a Latin origin which means the 'living dead'. Do we want to pass that shameful word on to our children? I'm not a Negro."

(Council Member Wanda Adams and Quanell X)

The survey has 10 total questions and Question 9 is the problem right now. The question asks "What is person 1's race?” and part of the option is "Black, African Am., or Negro." The U.S. Census Bureau defended the option by stating that some 56,000 surveyed Blacks preferred to be called Negro instead of Black or African-American.

Sitting on the panel also was 69-year-old Harris County Judge Zinetta Burney, who disagreed that the term is offensive. "I am a negro. I don't see anything wrong with that. I was born in 1941 and my birth certificate says 'colored' on it. I am not going to change that document. Being counted is more important than any word."

(Houston Counts committee member Carl Davis)

The moderator of the panel was Marcus Davis, owner of the Breakfast Klub restaurant and host of Sunday Morning Live on Magic 102 FM. Others on the panel included Jason Lee (2008 Harvard graduate), Carolyn Scantlebury (NAACP), and Judson Robinson III (Houston Area Urban League).

(Moderator Marcus Davis of the Breakfast Klub)

(Jason Lee (with mic) shares his thoughts about the word 'Negro')

"Be counted and being represented is most important," said Jason Lee. "But it's hard to discount the emotions of the people."

"Let's participate in the census, move our city forward and get pass this controversial issue," said Carl Davis, who spoke on behalf of the Houston Census Count Committee along with co-member Erica Fowler.

Jeffrey Boney, founder and CEO of the Texas Business Alliance, noted that many Black organizations still bear the word 'Negro' in their names such as the United Negro College Fund and even the word 'Colored' used in the name of NAACP.

"So in light of this discussion, would the heads of those organizations be willing to lead by example and change their names and stop using those terms?," asked Jeffrey Boney.

Audience member Chad Akpabio-Wilson advised "Don't let terms keep our sense of self limited to a label. Don't confine ourselves to a word."

"“When it comes to democracy, this government we live within, we want to be counted in that number. We must continue to do our part to get our part.” said Marcus Davis.

According to the Houston Counts website, the census questionnaires will arrive in mailboxes in March. The completed form should be mailed back to the Census Bureau by Census Day, April 1.

For more information visit: http://www.houstontx.gov/census2010