news-category: Campus News

GWU Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Friends Join Race to End Racism

Virtual 5K Gains State, National and International Support, Raising More than $4,800

Woman's Basketball coach, Alex Simmons
Head Women’s Basketball Coach Alex Simmons rests after finishing 10.2 miles for GWU Race to End Racism on June 19, 2020. Her husband and two daughters ran part of the way with her. Also pictured is Jeremy Luther, assistant men’s basketball coach, who ran the full route.

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—One Gardner-Webb University women’s soccer player saw what happened to George Floyd and the protests in response, calling for an end to racism and racial inequalities, and she was moved to take action. Gabby Berkes gave her teammates an idea that ignited a fire. From the soccer team to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), the momentum for a virtual 5K Race to End Racism grew quickly. Word spread on social media, and the race reached beyond Boiling Springs, drawing in participants from the local community, throughout the state, and across the world.

When Head Women’s Basketball Coach Alex Simmons heard that the 5K’s donations were going to the GWU Black Student Association (BSA), she decided to take it several steps forward. It’s 8.9 miles from her house to the GWU campus. She challenged 100 people to donate $8.90 and she would run the route. Donations poured in, and the goal was exceeded in no time. Student-athletes and GWU staff decided to come along for support, so they joined her for the run at sunrise on June 19, which is the celebration of Juneteenth—the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

“My high school coach—and it’s in the Bible—used to tell us a triple-braided cord is unstoppable, and I think that is exactly what happened (with their support),” Simmons said after completing the run. The verse is Ecclesiastes 4:12: “And one standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer; three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (Living Bible Translation)

“I’m not sure I could have done it by myself, so I’m super grateful that they all felt called—felt compelled to do it with us,” Simmons shared.

Dr. Downs and Chuck Burch finishing 5K
GWU President Dr. Bill Downs, left, and Chuck Burch, GWU vice president for Athletics, were among the group that joined Head Women’s Basketball Coach Alex Simmons for GWU Race to End Racism.

Running with her were Chuck Burch, GWU vice president for Athletics; Talen Francis, lacrosse player and president of SAAC, BSA and the Pre-Law Society; Savannah and Carley Plentovich, women’s basketball players, Dr. Bill Downs, GWU president; and Jeremy Luther, assistant men’s basketball coach. Her husband and children joined her part of the way, and GWU Chief of University Police Barry Johnson provided support and ensured the runners’ safety along the busy two-lane road to GWU’s campus. Simmons’ official time was 10.2 miles in 2:05 hours.

Francis ran with Simmons to thank her for her support. “It’s very personal for me, because I am a black woman and I have resonated with most of the stories I’ve seen on Twitter and the news,” she affirmed. “I wanted to take a stand and be on the right side of history. It means a lot to see people support us and care.”

Talen Francis
Talen Francis

Throughout the day, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends either walked or ran the 5K on campus or wherever they were. They joined the event from North Carolina, Maryland, Connecticut, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, and even Sweden, contributing $4,858. More than 200 registered participants posted photos and videos on social media of themselves running, walking and sharing why they decided to get involved using the hashtag #GwuRacetoEndRacism.

The success of the event is indicative of the close-knit community at Gardner-Webb. “In my coaching career I’ve been at some great schools,” Simmons said. “I think Gardner-Webb is just different. Being here you feel that family atmosphere. You feel that people want you to do well and people are behind you. Being the only black female coach on campus is huge. I want my players to see me as a leader and not only that I talk about being a leader but do things that show leadership.”

Located in the North Carolina foothills, Gardner-Webb University is a private, Christian, liberal arts university. Gardner-Webb emphasizes a strong student-centered experience and rigorous academics to prepare students to become effective leaders within the global community. Ignite your future at

Dr. Downs and students participating in 5k

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