Why is this 5K race route so confusing? Because it was drawn by politicians.

Partisan gerrymandering is malicious, bizarre, and surprisingly — legal.

Gerrymandering involves manipulating the boundaries of a voting district to sway the vote a particular way. It's completely legal (though the Supreme Court will have their official say about that) and often used for dubious purposes, allowing elected officials to choose their voters and not the other way around. Racial gerrymandering in particular can diminish the power of people of color to affect change in their communities.

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.


While partisan gerrymandering is among the primary enemies of American democracy, it can be really hard to get people fired up about lines on a map ... unless those lines are a racecourse.

North Carolina resident John Kennedy saw the effects of gerrymandering in action in the wake of his state's devastating "bathroom bill" that zipped through to the governor's desk.

“I saw how district borders were affecting our ability to make laws,” Kennedy told Runners World. “I was so mad that I couldn’t even find out who my representative was to write to them.”

Kennedy's wife Cinnamon suggested John combine Asheville's active running community with the need to understand these confusing borders by creating a "Gerrymander 5K" run/walk.

Participants in the St. Jude Rock 'n' Roll Nashville Marathon/Half Marathon and 5k. Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for St. Jude.

But organizing and directing a 5K is expensive and would be time-consuming for a single person to take on. So Kennedy gifted the idea to the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

For Alana Pierce, president of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, joining forces to bring attention to such a bureaucratic, literally divisive problem was a no-brainer.

"We want to demonstrate what [gerrymandering] is, how it can divide our communities and dilute our vote — no matter what party you're part of," she writes in an email. "Secondarily, this is a fun way to get the attention of  the people who are supposed to be representing us to say that we don't believe this methodology is fair and we don't feel like you are really representing us."

The 5K (3.1 mile) out-and-back route is a portion of the border of North Carolina Districts 10 and 11 in West Asheville. It twists, turns, and juts out around certain homes and buildings. In a word, it's a mess. But what appears chaotic and unorganized is anything but. It was meticulously drawn that way, and this event encourages people of all political parties to start asking, "Why?"

Image via League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, used with permission.

250 people have registered to run the Nov. 4 race, about 100 more than originally planned.

News of the event has also sparked interest from community groups and organizers outside the area interested in supporting the effort.

"We are also getting a lot of emails from people out of state who are not able to attend but want to support us and/or put on a similar event in their community," Pierce writes.

Proceeds from the 5K's $20 fee will go toward the next Gerrymander 5K, happening in 2018 ahead of the midterm elections, and other regional and state-level leagues working to get the word out about partisan gerrymandering.

Photo by Bill Wechter/AFP/Getty Images.

No matter who wins, the goal is met. People are thinking about gerrymandering and their own districts in a brand-new way.

And, according to Pierce, it's not a moment too soon.

In May, the Supreme Court struck down North Carolina's districts, saying the state violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by filling two districts with black voters, reducing their voting power. North Carolina redrew the maps using city boundaries and the results of past elections, so while they're no longer explicitly race-based, they're potentially just as bad. That's why Pierce and the League of Women Voters, along with other local and national groups, are working so hard to bring attention to the ruinous effect of partisan redistricting.

The U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

"The League, Common Cause and other organizations have been advocating for a non-partisan redistricting committee for a number of years, but since the 2010 census, the redistricting has gone to a new level, as demonstrated by the number of law suits and the Supreme Court ruling on racial gerrymandering," she writes. "Essentially, this event is a way to get our voices heard in a constructive and community-oriented way."

And ... you get a T-shirt. Can't beat that.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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