Gerrymandering a term all black people should know, understand

J’Brionne Helaire

NEW ORLEANS (February 18, 2022) – Some 42 Dillard students traveled to Baton Rouge to attend Redistricting & Advocacy Day hosted by The Power Coalition earlier this month in an attempt to support equitable representation for minorities for the next decade.

Did you know that Louisiana’s 2nd District, which encompasses voters from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, is one of America’s most gerrymandered districts in the nation? That’s according to Victoria Wenger, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Both these cities are home to the majority of the state’s African American population. This redistricting tactic is referred to as “packing,” and is one of the most common forms of gerrymandering, which manipulates districts to advantage or disadvantage certain groups.

Along with Louisiana’s 2nd District, the top five most gerrymandered districts in America are Maryland’s 3rd District, Texas’ 33rd and 35th districts, and Illinois’ 4th District.

Both parties use gerrymandering to bolster their voting power, but gerrymandering has become ubiquitous, with fewer and fewer districts including voters from both sides of the aisle. What that means is that there is less and less incentive for the representatives of those districts to compromise on bills, and compromise is a component of the democratic process.

We must be concerned because redistricting occurs after every census, and the decisions will affect our communities for the next 10 years. The question for Louisiana residents will be whether a second majority-black district will be created. The minority population has grown in Louisiana and would seem to require it, but GOP legislators this week would not even debate the notion and voted to table it instead.

I, along with the other 41 students, met with elected officials, connected with community organizers and wrote to district leaders about redistricting on Feb. 1-2. Students were able to participate in sessions hosted by The Power Coalition that clarified the redistricting process and provided us with the current horribly drawn maps before students testified before district leaders.

Typically, gerrymandering dilutes the voting power of people of color, and The Power Coalition and their partners are trying to create awareness about the issue.

College students should be more involved in the redistricting process because this will affect us the most. Redistricting occurs every 10 years and is based on the data from the most recent U.S. Census.  It determines the distribution of voting power within the state, which is why the process of redrawing the maps is paramount to ensuring vote dilution does not occur.

During the second session, we learned about case law that weakened the Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states like Louisiana to gerrymander with no consequences. Before Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013, Section 5 and Section 4(b) of the act required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to ask permission before changing districts and creating new voting laws. Louisiana fell into this category.

The trip included a visit to the state Capitol to discuss redistricting with members of the Louisiana Legislatures during a special session. Once there, students and advocates were dismayed but not surprised to learn that the topic of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee was changed and the special session adjourned until Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. In our debriefing session, we learned this was a tactic to stop us from expressing our dissatisfaction.

Several students were able to make their pleas for fair maps the morning of Feb. 2.

The students who spoke included four students from Memphis, Tennessee: Marissa Pittman, an urban studies and public policy sophomore; Kathryne Carruthers, a nursing sophomore; Tyler Finley, biology sophomore biology; and DeAndre Bell II, an urban studies junior who claims both Houston and Memphis. Spencer Jones, an urban studies junior from West Memphis, Arkansas, also spoke.

Though these students are not from Louisiana, they related their experiences from attending Dillard and residing in New Orleans these past years to the importance of equitable maps. Pittman warned that Senate Bill 1 “would not increase minority representation.” Jones emphasized the lasting effect the maps will have on our generation and the importance of fair representation.

The Power Coalition and its partners advocate for equitable maps and fair representation for people of color. You can find more information at