Don Your Superhero Cape, Lace Up and Run for Pop Culture Classroom

Pop Culture Classroom merch: gotta catch 'em all.
Liz Jaite
Pop Culture Classroom merch: gotta catch 'em all.
The good folks at Pop Culture Classroom want you to don your nerdiest track suits, tie up those Nikes with the Spiderman laces, and start running. In their all-ages virtual 5K, that is, complete with race-related merch and the joy of huffing and puffing for a super-good cause: Pop Culture Classroom itself.

For geek neophytes, that’s the organization that in every other year over the past decade has presented a full slate of nerd-friendly events, including the hugely successful Denver Pop Culture Con. Even though the 2020 con was first postponed and later canceled altogether, Pop Culture Classroom has still been going strong, and fans who missed the convention this year can help keep the PCC financially afloat — and ensure many Pop Culture Cons to come.

The PopRun 2020 Virtual 5K is pretty simple: Participants sign up and receive a merch package based on the ticket level they purchase. There’s an “official” course through City Park, but runners are encouraged to pick any path they want. There’s no real date for the run itself, to make it easy to take part and to respect social distancing; the “event” continues through December 14. The real reward: participating in a safe outdoor event that honors everything geekily good in Denver. 

We spoke with Pop Culture Classroom Assistant Director of Programming Tajshen Campbell and Education Program Manager Matt Slayton about the 5K now under way, and a little bit about what 2021 might hold for the con.

Westword: How did the 5K idea get started? Why did this seem like a good fit for DPCC?

Tajshen Campbell: We have several runners in our office, and the idea really grew naturally as we were brainstorming ways to build connections in the time of social distancing. The 5K gives our DPCC and PCC community a chance to do something together, even while we’re apart. It is also an excuse for new merch, and who doesn’t love that?

Matt Slayton: I'm not lying when I say I can't wait to get my hands on some of that merch. The gaiter is awesome! It's a great way for us to build community (which is part of Pop Culture Classroom's mission) through using #PopRun, where people can post photos of their run, especially if they are doing nerdy things during their run, like catching Pokémon in Pokémon Go, or promoting literacy (also part of Pop Culture Classroom's mission) by running to their local Little Free Library to give or take a book!

click to enlarge The aforementioned swag. - LIZ JAITE
The aforementioned swag.
Liz Jaite
Speaking of fit, is this a secret agenda not to let all us fans look like The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy?

Campbell: We would never have a secret agenda, and we love Comic Book Guy! We also do not want the 5K to be only about fitness. If participants want to walk, skip or skate their way through, that’s great! This event is about doing something fun, connecting with your fellow nerds, and promoting literacy along the way.

Slayton: Also, we're not checking in to make sure you "ran." If you did, awesome, and put those pics on social media using #PopRun! But if you just want the awesome merch or to donate to a good cause, we're here for that, too.

So how has DPCC been doing under the new rules of the pandemic? What's been in the works since the rescheduled con originally slated for this month had to finally be canceled altogether?

Campbell: It’s been difficult to adjust to working apart from one another. We really miss our volunteers, and we’ve all worried about letting down our Denver community. But even though our convention didn’t happen, all of our year-long programs are still going strong. We’ve just had to learn new ways of working together.

With that, we’ve also been working hard to create new opportunities, like PopRun, and to take the experiences of Con and transition them into a more pandemic-friendly online space. Our weekly streaming show, PopStream, is all about those Con conversations. We even had a streaming Halloween event, PopSCREAM, with amazing guests and comic creators!

Slayton: If you're looking for a taste of con, is the place to find it. But DPCC has always been in support of our year-round educational efforts, which are still going strong!

This fall, we offered in-depth, five-week virtual boot camps on subjects like Photoshop, Comic Creation, Dungeons & Dragons, and Streaming/Content Creation where folks ages 16-plus can learn new skills. We also gave away a few need-based scholarships for these programs. We're always partnering with schools and community organizations for outreach programs centered around building creativity skills, critical thinking skills, and literacy through pop culture, like our most recent program with Sun Valley Youth Center.

We're currently running a pilot program for LEAD (Literacy Education in Adolescent Detention) at a local youth detention facility. We're holding classes once a week and building literacy skills through graphic novel book study, while also teaching art and comic creation skills to improve student creativity and empower youth to use their voice to make a difference.

All proceeds from PopRun go to funding programs like these and more.

Any convention news for 2021? Hopes vs. reality?

Slayton: If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that no one really knows what’s coming next. We’re mindful of the world that we live in and the flexibility that our organization needs to have to ensure that we’re keeping people safe. We’re still considering all the options for DPCC 2021 and will share information as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, DPCC 2020 may not have happened, but the DPCC community is still here. We’re still promoting education and literacy around the Denver area, and we’re excited to connect with fans in new ways. If fans want to keep up to date on all of our new projects and activities, they should follow us on social, subscribe to PopStream on YouTube or podcast services. And make sure to sign up for PopRun!

Entry fees for Pop Culture Classroom's PopRun Virtual 5K start at $27; register and find out more here.