On July 5th, 1852, the great Frederick Douglass gave a lecture in Rochester, NY, to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and asked his audience:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.
It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865—nearly 13 years later—when our nation had a better answer. It was then that Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced to America’s remaining slaves that they were finally free. That moment kicked off over 150 years of celebrations commemorating the liberation and freedom of Black people across our country in a day we now know as “Juneteenth.”
The date of June 19th itself stands for more than just the end of slavery in America. At its core, Juneteenth represents our second American revolution because it fundamentally refortified our highest ideals of universal freedom and equality, and our long effort to value the humanity of all who live here.
But the revolution of Juneteenth is also one we’ve been fighting ever since, across Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era to this very day. This is a moment where we lay siege on enduring systems of racial inequality and police brutality, and declare in our streets, in our boardrooms, and throughout our institutions that Black lives matter and our day-to-day realities must bear that out.
We won’t be able to celebrate Juneteenth this year as we might like due to COVID-19. But we must still harness the righteous energy of this moment to drive the full meaning of Juneteenth into our voting booths, our community organizations, and right now into our 2020 Census.
The Census is more than just a survey. It allows every individual and every family to leave their mark and help build a legacy for their communities. This is simply a must-do.
Here are the facts: The 2020 Census translates into money and power. 10 years ago, Chicago’s response rate was a dismal 66 percent—one of the worst in the country among major cities. Repeating that would mean providing an undercount of our true need, leading to inadequate funding for the schools, social service programs, and infrastructure we depend upon on a daily basis.
Here’s where things get urgent. Our next opportunity to get this right doesn’t come for another 10 years, which is a wait we cannot afford. Each individual Census response is estimated to bring $1,400 to $1,800 of benefits to our community every year. It also determines our representation in Congress.
This mission is critical for our Black community because each Census we are undercounted. We need our nation to value us, to support us, and to count us. It’s why I wholeheartedly support statewide Census director Marishonta Wilkerson declaring Black Census Day on this year’s Juneteenth.
If we—as Black communities—leave ourselves out of the count, we will lose this opportunity to show future generations who we were, and who was fighting for them.
I am committed to doing my part to lead our city through this battle, but I need you to join me. I need you to stand up and be counted.
So far, only 53 percent of Chicago residents have responded, with many of our South and West Side neighborhoods still reporting at a rate below 40 percent. We must demand better for ourselves and for our city.
Filling out the Census is easy, takes only five minutes, and can be done online at My2020Census.Gov, or over the phone at 844-330-2020. This 2020 Census is also the first one which recognizes LGBTQ+ couples—one more way we can state our truth and claim our rightful place in history.
Now is the time to have our voices heard louder than ever before. Let’s celebrate Juneteenth by honoring how far our revolutionary fight has taken us and secure an even stronger path for our future. We can use this opportunity to chart a different, better course for our communities that have seen generations of disinvestment. I ask you, please fill out the 2020 Census and help ensure we make Black lives count, today and for years to come.
Lori E. Lightfoot, Mayor, City of Chicago