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Counting on Fame

City hopes Chris Brown helps pump up college student response to Census.

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How far will city officials go to make the 2010 U.S. Census cool? In a name: Chris Brown. The pop singer may have been convicted of assaulting ex-girlfriend and fellow pop singer Rihanna in August, and working to complete hard-labor community service hours around town. But today he plays role model, joining Mayor Dwight C. Jones and Virginia Union University President Claude G. Perkins in a last-ditch effort to implore college students to fill out their Census forms.

“We're putting some purpose in this party!” Clovia Lawrence, Radio One's community affairs director, tells the crowd of several hundred students gathered around Henderson Square at Virginia Union University. “Little count, little money. Big count, big money.” Pop music emanates from the loudspeakers.

“Whoever screams the loudest, that's where Chris is going to come,” Lawrence teases a front-row audience of screaming young women.

VUU President Perkins and Mayor Jones speak before headliner Brown takes the microphone. “I wanted to come here and stress to y'all today, the importance of filling out the Census,” Brown says. “You only need to be 18 and over to do it.”

After about 60 seconds of speaking, he's done.

Mayor Jones doesn't refer to Brown in his speech but shakes hands and poses for photographs with the star and Perkins.

The mayor's deputy chief of staff, Jeffrey M. Bourne, praises the crowd's visible energy. When asked about the message being sent to students by engaging Brown as a spokesman, Bourne replies, “Everyone makes mistakes.”

“We were in need of somebody to make this kind of draw happen,” says Adria Graham Scott, co-chair of a mayor-appointed census volunteer committee that coordinated Brown's appearance. Scott stresses the leverage needed to reach difficult-to-count demographics such as young males between the ages of 18 and 25.

“I just came here to see Chris Brown,” says Marquice Jones, an 18-year-old VUU freshman.

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