Wayne Co. students determined to make sure 'everybody counts' in 2020 Census

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Correction: Andrew Amore's title has been updated to indicate that he is the director of My School Votes.

Detroit — Tommey Walker, founder of lifestyle brand Detroit vs. Everybody, stood before hundreds of students Friday to remind them of a truth he discovered as he got older.

"Your voice isn't just singular, it joins and creates part of a collective," said Walker, talking on participating in the 2020 Census and registering to vote. "Your vote has an impact. You have an impact. Everybody counts."

Warren Evans speaks to students at Wayne County Community College District to encourage them to vote.

About 400 students gathered Friday at Wayne County Community College District's downtown campus to rally with Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and other local personalities on the importance of participating in the upcoming Census and election.

Students from Detroit Public Schools Community District, Romulus and River Rouge were there to learn how their communities are undercounted and how they can make a difference.

Zaineb Hussein, Wayne County's director of diversity and inclusion, said historically, those undercounted are children younger than 5, immigrants, refugees and people who face socio-economic problems. 

"Imagine someone at 5 years old and not being counted. They are going through an underfunded school system by the time they're 10," Hussein said. "We are targeting students because we know youth can actually go back home and be the messengers not only to their families but their friends and remember to count their younger sister."

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, she said.

Student ambassadors join the "Everybody Counts" campaign to get their peers registered.

"We're reminding them that 'you exist.' When you don't get counted, you're not considered when major decisions are being made and counted when funding is being distributed."

Select students from Wayne County high schools were chosen and sworn-in as youth ambassadors to lead the charge to promote the 2020 election cycle and census participation within their schools. 

Evans said it's vital that students know they have a stake in the future. 

"This is really, to me, a pivotal election," Evans told The Detroit News. "It's too bad it's so early in their life, but we need them now. The undercounts are always problematic and these folks can get their younger brothers and sisters and others in the neighborhood counted."

Tommey Walker, founder of lifestyle brand Detroit vs. Everybody, talks about the importance of students making their voices heard.

During the rally, national recording artist and Detroit native Kash Doll hyped the crowd while students visited on-site voter registration and census representatives.

"I feel like anyone could be that one person that makes a difference and that was installed early on by my grandmother," said Daveona McCloud, 17, a senior at West Side Academy. "... And I know not everyone feels that way. I'm not even old enough to vote yet, but my grandmother always told me we have to make sure Detroit stands out, and people don't vote because there are just so many excuses, but we can't count on others to vote for us."

Andrew Amore, director of My School Votes, part of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote campaign, said Detroit is a model city that is already standing out. The national nonprofit is dedicated to closing the gaps in voter registration and voter turnout in part by supporting K-12 schools to establish in-school voter registration, which is already happening in Detroit, he said.

"At Cass Tech, we have 400 students registered. Those 400 votes are enough to change a city, state and an election. Detroit is a national model, it's far more advanced than any other district in the country. Osborn is 92% the way here already," Amore said.

"We create plans, identify eligible students and register voters. Only 11,000 votes tipped the election in 2016. There are 3,500 eligible students in DPS. That gets us nearly halfway there."

Zaineb Hussein, Wayne County's director of diversity and inclusion, talks about the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census

As an incentive, the When We All Vote has teamed up with MTV to offer prom funds for the schools that get the most students registered.

"I want to translate to the youth exactly how important their voice is," Walker told The News. "I remember being this age thinking there's no way my voice is going to get all the way to where it needs to be, so that's when we came up with the slogan, 'Everybody Counts.' "


Twitter: @SarahRahal_