With some of the metro area's largest foreign-born populations, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are teaming up to ensure that every one of their residents is counted in the 2020 federal census.

They have formed a coalition, "Brooklyns Count 2020," which is the first of its kind for the neighboring north suburb communities with a combined population of more than 100,000.

Both Brooklyns boast a big slice of foreign-born populations (23%), compared to 8% in Minnesota and 20% in the Twin Cities. The same is true for nonwhite populations: the Brooklyns are around 50% white, compared to about 56% in the Twin Cities and 80% statewide.

That diversity is driving major census efforts that have been underway in both cities during the past year. A decade of funding allocation relies on the count being as accurate as possible.

Brooklyn Center spokeswoman Angel Smith said the Census Bureau predicted an undercount of more than 7,100 people for the city — nearly a quarter of the population — which represents the number of those considered less likely to participate in the census.

"We really had to buckle down and think about strategy," Smith said.

The cities' first meeting took place last fall with a state demographer. Bimonthly meetings are planned until April when residents will submit the federal survey.

"We have a lot at stake. We have a lot of hard-to-count communities up here so it's a big deal to us," said Brooklyn Park community engagement manager Josie Shardlow. "When it's time to do outreach, we're covered. We know geographically where traditionally people are undercounted."

That includes apartment communities and renters, low-income and limited English residents, immigrants, seniors and snow birds.

Asking who is at the table

A major new tool for this census will be online submission. Shardlow said it's one of several options for residents along with traditional mail-in forms or phone information.

Each option makes available a select number of 59 non-English languages, so a big part of the legwork has been figuring out which will work best for residents.

The coalition has been identifying gaps to fill with volunteers and brainstorming outreach ideas. Already there is a web page with general information. More is in the works in terms of fliers, informational videos, social media campaigns and door knocking.

Collaboration is being planned with schools, churches and mosques. Smith said all engagement will have "further reach with more people."

The cities will rely heavily on community leaders to bridge those gaps because, Shardlow said, a lot of government distrust exists among certain residents despite the decision to drop the citizenship question from the census form.

The coalition is trying to underscore the benefits that a complete count will provide for both Brooklyns. A new component of the 2020 census will give African-Americans a chance to elaborate on where they are from.

"This will be the best data on country of origin of our residents we've ever had, if people consistently fill it," Shardlow said. "We would like to know exactly how many Liberians we have and Nigerians we have. It's empowering for communities to know, too … [and] help tell their story and be empowered with the data."

There are challenges with documenting the diversity. Shardlow said approximately half of Brooklyn Park's foreign-born residents are not citizens, and therefore less likely to complete the census form. Trusted community leaders will be key in encouraging participation among those who historically don't do so.

One of those leaders is Nausheena Hussain, executive director of Reviving Sisterhood. Hussain said census outreach falls within her mission of amplifying the voice and power of Muslim women, who make up one of the most undercounted and hard-to-count communities.

"There's so much history behind the fear of completing that [census] and not finding any value to it," she said. "If we can get the message out of why it's important to complete the census, we know that we have the ability to influence that."

Hussain said this was the first time she has seen the Muslim community pay attention to the census and how it affects their neighborhoods and schools.

She and other leaders attending coalition meetings can bring that information back to their communities.

Hussain said that Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park are focused on "doing a really great job of reaching out and asking who is not at the table" and who should be.

"This is the first time I'm feeling like the census is taking this step forward, in helping people be able to identify more truly with who they are," she said.

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751