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Philadelphia Holds Martin Luther King Day Of Service


Thousands gathered in North Philadelphia this morning for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. The holiday is often observed as a day of community service, and this event had a special, once-in-a-decade focus - the 2020 census count. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Max Marin reports.


MAX MARIN, BYLINE: State and local officials spent the morning hammering together wooden boxes on the campus of Girard College. Much of the carpentry was not so great. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner built an oddly misshapen box.

LARRY KRASNER: I think this is further proof there's plenty of employment for skilled carpenters in Philadelphia because elected officials - not so good.

MARIN: But the boxes were meant to engage city residents about the upcoming census. Once finished, the boxes will be placed in 200 buildings. They'll be used to collect commitment cards, a pledge to fill out the big survey this spring. Pennsylvania is spending millions of dollars on outreach efforts this year. Officials say there's big money at stake if everyone in the state doesn't participate.

Fernando Armstrong, the regional director of the U.S. Census Bureau, says each person who goes uncounted in Philadelphia means a loss of federal funds for the city.

FERNANDO ARMSTRONG: We have billions and billions of dollars that come back to the community that we can only get them if we have a good census in 2020. So we're encouraging everyone, absolutely everyone, to take this moment of pride and be on the census in 2020.

MARIN: Ahead of the big count, the city is doing extra outreach in areas that saw the lowest participation rates during the last census in 2010. Stephanie Reid, who heads up Philadelphia's office of census outreach, said few people realize that the 10-year survey is the basis for political power-sharing in the United States. It impacts where electoral boundaries will be drawn in the future. It helps determine how much representation any given area will have, and not just in Washington, D.C.

STEPHANIE REID: People talk about the federal level in Congress, but it's also our state representation and down to our city council lines.

MARIN: Pennsylvania state Representative Malcolm Kenyatta, whose district includes parts of North Philly, said the census is, at its heart, about a message preached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - making everyone seen, especially those from marginalized communities.

MALCOLM KENYATTA: In general, what Dr. King understood is that in America, poor and working-class people are consistently ignored.

MARIN: Every household in the country will be invited to participate in the census before April 1.

For NPR News, I'm Max Marin in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Max Marin