Lacing Up and Walking for Health

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Lacing Up and Walking for Health

GirlTrek works to fight the health crisis among black women

What happens when one million black women, across the USA, start walking in their communities? Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison—co-founders of GirlTrek—plan to find out.

“Black women in the U.S. are facing an unprecedented health crisis. Eight-two percent of us are over a healthy body weight,” Garrison says. “Black women are dying from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension. It’s a crisis of epic proportions and yet nobody is talking about it.”

Dixon remembers teaching in Atlanta with Teach For America and hearing statistics that half of her black girl students are likely to develop diabetes “and I’m looking at a classroom full of black girls and I’m thinking, ‘What the heck are we doing about it?’’’

Together they founded GirlTrek, started walking in their neighborhood and invited others to join them. Two years later GirlTrek has grown into a movement of 35,000 neighborhood walkers across the country who have made a personal commitment to live their healthiest most fulfilled lives.

“Our goal is to get to one million GirlTrekkers by 2018,” Dixon says, “and we believe that if we get 1 million women out walking in their neighborhoods that they become the engine of ingenuity and innovation that we need to have a public health revolution in our country.” GirlTrek has 50,000 members around the country, and plans to sign up another 50,000 walking women by the end of the year.

GirlTrek is grounded on a deep analysis of the root causes behind the health crisis among black women. Where the high rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, being overweight or obese, and high rates of stress and depression was often blamed on laziness, individual choice or cultural deficit, Dixon and Garrison saw the structural, physical and psychological effects of centuries of racial, class and gender oppression.

“We’ve been working literally as the laborers in this country for almost 400 years,” says Garrison. “We have been socialized to put the needs of other people before ourselves.”

By helping black women across the country understand the connection between historical oppression, structural barriers, trauma, low self-worth and health, GirlTrek has been able to empower women to start reversing the process by recognizing that they have value.

This weekend GirlTrek is leading a national conversation on BlackGirlHealing this Women’s History Month. More critical than the prominent voices at the table—women like film producer Tonia Lewis Lee, activist Michaela angela Davis and the 18th Surgeon General of the United States, Regina Benjamin, M.D.—thousands of sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends and friends will broke bread at house parties on March 10 to lend their voices and solutions to the health crisis facing black women and girls.

On Thursday they unveiled the powerful new mini documentary on what happens when black women walk. On Friday, March 11, GirlTrek will participate in a day of solidarity by wearing “superhero blue” to work, and on Saturday, March 12, trekkers from all around the country will participate in sunrise walks where they will form commitment circles and set their yearly health goals.

“There are women throughout our history who have used walking as a mechanism of change,” Dixon says. “Starting from Harriet Tubman who literally, on her two feet, walked herself to freedom across the Mason Dixon line; to the women in Montgomery, who walked and boycotted the buses in order to make a powerful statement,” Garrison says. “There’s so much power in the culture of black people. Let’s believe it, let’s come together and let’s make solutions.”

Andrea King Collier