Having met in college in LA, T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison remained firm friends while they went on to achieve their dreams and goals. With all going smoothly in their lives, it just seemed to highlight just how different their lives were from the women they grew up with. acted to highlight how different things were for the women they grew up with. â€œWe thought, â€˜How do we start helping the women we know come along on this journey with us?’ And being overweight was the outward manifestation of what we knew to be deeper themes,â€ says Morgan.
Deciding to take action, in 2010, the friends organised a 10-week walking challenge. They emailed 200 Black women, asking them to forward the message to every single black woman in their email address books. â€œSix hundred responses came back from across the country and at the end of 10 weeks, we weren’t prepared for what happened,â€ enthuses Vanessa. â€œStories just flooded in. People said they were amazed they had been able to stick with it. We heard: â€˜This is changing my life. When are we going to do it again?’.â€
â€œFrom the time our feet hit the floor in the morning to the time we close our eyes at night, our steps are ordered – by our jobs, sometimes two or three jobs, or our efforts to find a job.â€
So why choose a walking group to overcome these the complex challenges faced by Black women? â€œWalking is not only healthy for you, it can be empowering,â€ insists Morgan. â€œFor too long, the Black community â€“ and Black women in particular â€“ have been left behind by the health and wellness movement, and as a result, score worse across most health indicators than any other subgroup in the U.S. Eighty per cent of Black women are over a healthy body weight and 53 per cent are morbidly obese. We know that two thirds of Black women engage in little or no leisure time physical activity – because we have no leisure time. From the time our feet hit the floor in the morning to the time we close our eyes at night, our steps are ordered, by our jobs, sometimes two or three jobs, or our efforts to find a job.â€
Black women and girls in the US often live in challenging circumstances. This means that their health often comes last on their agenda. â€œThey live in communities that are under extreme stress whether it be from crime, health disparities, blight or even gentrification. GirlTrek encourages Black women and girls to get active and be visible in their communities through walking in the streets of their neighborhoods and at local parks and trails,â€ adds Vanessa.
A lot more than simply a walking club, the movement challenges women, it pushes them, it creates a sense of possibility – not to mention the health benefits and the larger issues it addresses.
â€œOur walking is not for sport. We don’t hit the streets of our communities for show. Our movement is more than cool hashtags and cute outfits. This is a revolution. Our walking is our activism.â€
â€œWomen enjoy the monthly walking challenges that oftentimes pushes them outside of their comfort zones and speaks directly to their needs and aspirations; and of course, the intergenerational sisterhood and focus on black womanhood. GirlTrek challenges the belief that Black women and girls don’t hike or we don’t like nature or care about fitness. GirlTrek trains women from across the country to become outdoor trip leaders so they can use their skills to bring even more Black women and girls out into nature on beautiful walks and hikes to take advantage of fresh air and the many parks and trails in the U.S. Our walking is not for sport. We don’t hit the streets of our communities for show. Our movement is more than cool hashtags and cute outfits. This is a revolution. Our walking is our activism,â€ stresses Vanessa
â€œIt also gives Black women a realistic, culturally relevant path toward better health, improves the health outcomes of Black women by increasing activity rates and creating a peer culture of healthy decision-making and empowers women to organize their peers into highly visible walking groups who then connect to other groups through an active social media presence,â€ adds Morgan.
In a few short years, GirlTrek has grown to a force of more than 70,000 Black women and girls who walk daily in local parks, trails and the streets of their neighborhoods. â€For these women, walking has become a keystone habit that leads to a cascade of tiny rebellions against disease by developing healthier life practices such as eating better, spending less time alone and increased Vitamin D intake due to being out in nature more. We believe very deeply that GirlTrek is a solution. We’ve done the research and we know that walking at least 30 minutes a day works. It reduces risk of heart disease and stroke; lowers risk of obesity, enhances mental well-being and so much more,â€ finishes Vanessa.
Having been featured in The New York Times, Ebony.com, and having been named a Health Hero by Essence magazine, GirlTrek is on the fast track to being the country’s largest health movements. By 2018, GirlTrek aims to â€˜mobilize’ 1 million Black women and girls to be the â€œchangemakersâ€ of their own lives and of their communities by developing a routine of walking in order to move in the direction of their healthiest, most fulfilled lives.
Join GirlTrek today by starting or joining a team in your neighborhood by signing up onChangex.org.