By: Kissuth E. Reamo, Defender Intern
Ever wondered about the importance of the census? Ray Shackelford, 34-year old community ambassador and Houston Area Urban League (HAUL) consultant answers your questions as he sits down with us to discuss the census, social justice, elections and community activation.
Defender: How do you think this year’s census count will affect the Black community?
Ray Shackelford: Census impact is directly related to census participation. If the numbers return at the rate we are hoping, the effect will be significant: the ability to effectively regulate funding, establish quality schools in our neighborhoods, the number and quality of hospitals in our areas and more. Historically undercounted, the Black community has always been underserved in education and local health care. Significantly, Black men, children under five years old and immigrants are the citizens who suffer the most.
Defender: Since George Floyd’s passing and countless others, what is HAUL’s goal to initiate a more active role in civic service?
Shackelford: Activating citizens in civic and political service has always been part of what we’ve done. Still, Floyd’s passing has transformed what we do with increases in school volunteer organizations, corporate partnerships, individuals from the Black community and individuals from other communities. We are launching a social justice center to train citizens to become community advocates through training to represent themselves. We are currently still understaffed and underfunded, which limits the impact our efforts have on the community. We seek to empower citizens and amplify our current initiatives.
Defender: What are you doing to encourage Blacks to vote and participate in the political process?
Shackelford: We participated in a 97.9 The Box panel discussion targeting younger generations connecting the dots to the importance of voting and educating our young people on understanding the process. We provided access to information through video messaging to ensure young people understand the connection between voting and issues like the acquittals of officers involved in the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The election is the first step; we must continue to follow up. Only engaging the community during the election cycle, but no consistent communication, engagement and education in non-election years is [a problem]. Every election is the most critical election of our lives. Care for your vote the way you care for your body.
Defender: What national initiatives you’ve seen would like to implement in Houston?
Shackelford: Nationally, we are connected to and collaborating with lawsuits for the postal service regarding the mail-in ballots, from the legislative perspective to address housing – evictions and foreclosures, loss of jobs, and the digital divide. Our partnerships include the faith-based community, fraternities and sororities and the NAACP. We encourage citizens to find the area that you may be most effective and go to work there locally, then nationally.
Defender: What would you say is the pulse of Houston, and how will you tap into it to accomplish some of HAUL’s 2020-21 goals?
Shackelford: The pulse of the city varies considerably from day to day. It’s challenging because we are the most diverse city in the country. Grassroots elements are critical as we must engage all people across the community, at all levels. We are positioned to work with nonprofits, our Latin and immigrant communities, and our African and Caribbean communities.
Defender: What are your next steps with engaging the community to finish the census campaign by the end of the month?
Shackelford: Social media has become so critical because of the pandemic. Phone-banking, text-banking, visiting high-density areas to leave doorknockers and continuous conversations in our Black and Brown communities, which are the ones in danger of being undercounted. Partnerships with influencers in the community to utilize their influence to get the word out.
Defender: What activities has the Urban League initiated for high school and college students?
Shackelford: The Black Executive Exchange program could not be maintained due to a lack of funding. However, we partner with our local HBCUs and Independent School Districts to reach our youth and college communities. We are working with the NAACP to complement their efforts in the city.
Defender: Last minute message to voters?
Shackelford: You cannot make up what we will lose if citizens don’t take the 5-minutes now to dictate funding over the next 10 years. Someone will be elected in every race. Ensure that your vote is counted and your voice is heard.