J. Reed featured at Census 2020 street fair in Inkster

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

It was a bone-chilling night when he slept outside underneath the landmark fist on Jefferson in Detroit.

Hip-hop recording artist and Inkster native J. Reed wanted to bring attention to the plight of the homeless.

Hip-hop artist and Inkster native J. Reed headlines a concert Saturday at the 2020 Census street fair in Inkster.

So for 48 hours, he and a friend tried to ward off the cold in sleeping bags on that November night in 2017, refused food and only drank water offered by passers-by.

“As much as I already knew it was an issue, actually being in their shoes made me see just how bad the situation can be when we walk by and pretend they’re invisible,” said Reed, 29, who relocated in March to Long Beach, California, with his wife, Sha’Tarra Reed.  

“First, it was friends and family who came by donating goods, and then word spread through social media, and people began donating clothing, blankets and other items, which we then spread out in Hart Plaza, where a lot of homeless people gathered, and they were able to come and get what they needed.”

He added, “I did not feel sympathy. It was more empathy.”

Pearlie Mae Reed would have been proud.

His grandmother, who raised him and his brothers on Hickory Street, praised all of his school report cards, celebrated him when he made a team and encouraged his music career.

“She used to tell me all the time, ‘You’re going to make it,’ even in her last days,” said Reed. “She was my everything, and I even wrote a song, ‘Call to Granny.’”

Reed said when he showed it to her, “she became very emotional. “

He added, “She also always used to tell me to be a light in the midst of darkness, and to go further than what meets the eye.”

Pearlie Mae Reed died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 89.

His beloved grandmother was the impetus for his activism, which will again be on display Saturday where he headlines a free concert to promote the 2020 U.S. Census.

Wayne County wants to ensure all citizens in its 43 communities are counted in the 2020 U.S. Census. An accurate count equals accurate federal dollars. To kick off its engagement and education campaign for the 2020 Census, the county is hosting a street fair featuring food trucks, a bounce house, carnival games, a backpack giveaway, magic show and free evening concert Saturday in Inkster.

Reed said it was important that he participate in the effort, especially to help the youth.

“I graduated from Inkster High School, and now there are no schools in the district,” he said. “That was one of the motivating factors because it goes to show how far things can get out of hand when there’s a lack of resources, to the point where our children are going to schools outside the district.”

That also is what prompted him to work at, and then volunteer for the past four years with Beyond Basics, a literacy program.

“It gave me an up-close look at children robbed of the opportunity of literacy, and being able to see them make the transition to being readers in a short amount of time,” he said.

Reed began rapping in the sixth grade and released his first mixed tape in 2009. His first album now is out, “Thank you for the first 10 years.”

Inkster Mayor Byron Nolen is grateful for Reed’s participation.

“I’m extremely excited because he’s a great role model and an even better person than an artist,” Nolen said. “I’m hoping the kids will come out to support him.”  

He said it is “critically important” for residents to get the correct information so they can be counted.

“This correlates with federal resources we can receive,” he said.

Wayne United, a diversity and inclusion initiative of the office of Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, is sponsoring the campaign.

According to the county, past censuses have under-counted people of color, students, seniors and the homeless, among other under-served groups. For every resident not counted in the 2020 Census, the county and its communities will lose about $1,800 in federal funding annually for essential programs including education, roads and nutrition assistance.

“The overarching goal is to use this as a way to educate and bring awareness about the Census,” said Zaineb Hussein, Wayne County's director of diversity and inclusion, who is leading the county’s 2020 Census efforts. “And the concert is to engage young millennials and reinforce the importance of the U.S. Census.”

There also will be free back-to-school backpacks for children given away on a first-come basis between noon and 2 p.m.

In addition to Nolen, Evans and state Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, the concert lineup includes B Free, DJ Bangerz, Keely Ferguson, Que 9 and Rami.

If you go

What: Census 2020 street fair in Inkster 

When: Noon-2 p.m. Saturday, backpack drive; 3 p.m.-4 p.m., magic show; 6 p.m., concert

Where: Inkster Road between Michigan and Avondale