Dread Head Cowboy rides to the rescue of Chicago’s dismal response to 2020 U.S. census

Chicago’s response rate is 55 percent — 20 points shy of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s goal. In some South and West Side neighborhoods that desperately need an infusion of federal funding, the response rate is less than 40 percent.

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Adam Hollingsworth, otherwise known as “The Dread Head Cowboy,” rides his horse Prince in the Loop on June 16, 2020.

Adam Hollingsworth, otherwise known as “The Dread Head Cowboy,” will ride through some Chicago neighborhoods to promote participation in the U.S. census.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Four months ago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged the Trump administration to postpone the 2020 U.S. census, arguing there was “not enough bandwidth” to conduct the count while waging a national war against the coronavirus.

That appeal fell on deaf ears. Not surprisingly, Chicago’s response rate fell to 55 percent — 20 points shy of Lightfoot’s ambitious, 75 percent goal — and less than 40 percent in some South and West Side neighborhoods.

Chicago’s response rate has led other large cities, including New York, Houston and Los Angeles — but is still not good enough for Lightfoot.

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So on Monday, Lightfoot gave that dismal effort a “C” grade, donned a cowboy hat, and asked the “Dread Head Cowboy” to ride to the rescue of a 2020 U.S. Census response that will determine federal funding to Chicago for the next decade.

In rode Adam Hollingsworth on horseback to the tune of “Old Town Road,” by Lil Nas X.

The 33-year-old former boxer is expected to spend the next week riding through 10 South and West Side wards where response is lowest, with the goal of boosting census participation.

Hollingsworth became a social media sensation after riding his horse, Bella, on May 30 to demonstrations in the Loop protesting the death of George Floyd.

“That was my brother. That was my mother. That was my sister. That was me down there. That could have been me,” Hollingsworth, who has had his own run-ins with police, told the Sun-Times last month.

Riding to the rescue of the U.S. census in neighborhoods with low response rates — including East and West Garfield Park, Washington Park, Woodlawn, Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, North and South Lawndale, Back of the Yards and West Englewood — is an equally noble goal.

It’ll help determine whether long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods further ravaged by looting and mayhem that started May 30 and continued into early June get federal funding they so desperately need for schools, parks, roads, bridges, mass transit and job training.

“It is right here on the West Side as well as in neighborhoods on the South Side where our responses have unfortunately been low and, in some cases, lower than 40 percent,” Lightfoot said.

“I know that this has been a challenging time for everyone. But I am issuing a challenge to every community. ... Please step up. The census takes about five minutes. It couldn’t be easier. You can go online. You can fill out a paper form. You can call on a phone number [844-330-2020]. But please do everything you can.”

Lightfoot did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but clearly was referring to the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and repeated attacks on sanctuary cities when she warned Chicago cannot allow itself to become a victim of the “national winds that are blowing.”

“People trying to drive folks in our communities into the shadows. People who don’t want us to be counted. Who don’t want us to be successful. Who don’t want us to get those federal resources. Don’t let them win. We win by making sure that we are counted,” the mayor said.

In the 2010 census, Chicago’s 66% response rate was “among the worst participation levels” of any big city in the nation.

This year, Lightfoot set an ambitious goal of 75%. To do that, Chicago had planned to spend $2.7 million — $2 for every “hard-to-count” resident — to cut through what Lightfoot has called the cloud of fear created by immigration raids and a nixed citizenship question.

But then the pandemic shuttered schools and businesses, bringing everyday life to a standstill. Libraries where census kiosks had been installed were closed.

“We had a very robust community engagement plan that obviously got sidetracked because of COVID. We’re going back to those plans. We’re using trusted community voices to do the work,” the mayor said.

Marilyn Sanders, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, said she’s hiring and training at least 11,000 and up to 14,000 people to knock on doors in Chicago.

The deadline to fill out the census is Oct. 31.

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