GirlTrek Is Reclaiming Black Women's Health One Walk At a Time
Harriet Tubman. Septima Clark. Fannie Lou Hammer. These are just a few of the women who T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison say inspire them for being change-makers and leaders in the community, the ones who fought for civil rights and social justice, and the ones who taught Dixon and Garrison the power of organizing.
Together, the friends co-founded GirlTrek, a national health movement aimed at helping Black women and girls become change agents in their personal lives and their larger communities through the simple act of walking.
The origins of GirlTrek can be traced back to the start of Dixon and Garrison's 20-plus year friendship. The duo met in college in Los Angeles and began building a bond through "radically honest conversations around our childhood, what we had experienced and our hopes, dreams, and struggles," says Garrison. "Our conversations included our families not just dying physically, but literally dying spiritually and mentally from the stress and the weight of the injustice in the world."
Using the pathway informed by the footsteps of their foremothers, Dixon and Garrison felt compelled to create opportunities of health and healing for Black women and girls because of the health disparities — higher rates of diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, higher maternal mortality rates, and overall shorter life expectancies — that plague this group of people. Issues that Dixon and Garrison say they find not only unacceptable but unjust. (These are just a few of the critical reasons the U.S. desperately needs more Black female doctors.)
Since its founding in 2010, all 820,000 women of Girl Trek (and counting), have vowed to fight inequities by putting themselves and their health first. A foundation of the group's core values is looking at walking as radical act of self-care, which makes sense considering research shows that walking for just 30 minutes most days can significantly boost your overall health.
"Walking is the single most powerful thing a Black woman can do for her health," says Dixon. "When we walk, we combat mental illness, depression, everything that comes to kill, steal, and destroy." It's also a time for dialogue: "When Black women walk together, we can start to ideate, innovate, and audit the needs of our community and directly solve for them in real-time," she adds. (Related: The Best Walking Workouts for Weight Loss, According to Fitness Experts)
Those needs often include fighting for civil rights. "When we walk in collective action in the same direction, and we can name our agenda, we have the power in numbers to change health policy at a population level and demand justice for people like Breonna Taylor," says Dixon.
While the connection between equality and the health of the Black community hasn't always been a clear association for some, for Dixon and Garrison they know the disparities in healthcare are just another system of white supremacy stacked against Black women. (Related: What Needs to Be Understood When Talking About COVID-19 Risks at Protests)
And now, as people have again taken to the streets to protest the senseless murders of countless Black men and women in the midst of the COVID-19, this only further highlights the serious and fatal repercussions of these injustices and inequalities. And during it all, Dixon, Garrison, and the members of GirlTrek have been and continue putting in the work to strike back against the trauma of systematic racism.
Black women are fighting like superheroes on the ground in their communities, says Garrison. "People are catching up to us now, so the movement has gotten bigger, and there are more people in the streets, but last year there were still 300,000 Black women who were lacing up their sneakers and protesting their own deaths saying, 'Do not kill me.' We can be in the streets for the lives of Black women and our health. We don't need to wait for anyone else to get on the front lines with us. The front line is your door. In fact, let's get out there every single day whether anyone is looking or not." (Related: This Duo Is Preaching the Power of Healing Through Mindfulness In the Outdoors)
For GirlTrek that comes in many forms, including, yes, daily strides with local walking groups or "teams" across the U.S., but also by retracing Harriet Tubman's 100-mile journey to freedom from Maryland to Pennsylvania; walking the historic 54 miles that civil right marchers organized from Selma to Montgomery in 1965; and launching their most recent endeavor, the second installment of their Black History Bootcamp, the Acts of Resistance edition, a 21-day walking challenge to celebrate powerful acts of resistance in Black culture.
Ultimately, Dixon and Garrison want to impart lasting change by increasing the life expectancy of Black women while changing the culture in which Black women (and their health) take a back seat. Care for others can no longer trump the care for themselves. They acknowledge that's a big shift considering the history of Black women in America, but they are certainly up for the challenge.
"Black women are the story of the world," says Garrison. "Our daily lives are an act of resistance, and GirlTrek is a part of that."