A multiethnic coalition of Georgia pastors and community leaders summoned the Biblical image of Joseph and Mary to urge minority residents Tuesday to participate in the 2010 Census or risk forfeiting federal aid to states based on population.
They urged black, Latino and Asian communities, which they say were undercounted due to low participation during the last census, to view participating as a civic duty and a biblical mandate.
"Us as Christians must be engaged," Ariel Robles, pastor of History Makers International Ministries in Marietta, told a news conference.
Multi-lingual posters lined the room depicting a man and woman trekking across a desert and the words "Joseph and Mary participated in the Census. Don't be afraid."
The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials organized the event.
"I think by having community organizations, trusted religious leaders and business leaders take the message to their own community, it would resonate better," said Jerry Gonzalez executive director of GALEO.
The news conference was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the famed spiritual home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. During his era, minorities fought for basic inclusion.
But Tuesday, coalition leaders said too many have become comfortable being invisible. One coalition estimate put the Asian population in Gwinnett County, for example, at 10 times the 2000 census estimate.
They blamed the low count on language barriers and an unwillingness to fill out Census forms.
"In particular, minority communities are in the category of hard to count communities," Gonzalez said. "Immigrants have a fear of the government, (and) African-Americans have a distrust of the government. There are a lot of obstacles."
Yet community leaders say they must be overcome if Georgia's minorities are to benefit from federal cash.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, information collected during the survey helps determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services ranging from schools and hospitals to job training centers.
Getting that cash to Georgia, and eventually to minority communities, can be as simple as taking the survey, Gonzalez said.
In 2000, "I was of age to be counted, but I don't remember being counted," the Rev. B. Daniel Kim, associate pastor of the Korean Community Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, said. "Let's make sure we don't make the same mistake."