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While teaching history at South Atlanta High School in the early 2000s, T. Morgan Dixon came across a startling statistic: 50 percent of Black girls in the U.S. will develop type 2 diabetes unless diet and activity levels change. Inspired to do something about it, Dixon began taking girls hiking. At the same time, her best friend Vanessa Garrison was grappling with women in her family dying prematurely from chronic diseases.

Wanting to do something more radical and transformative to combat the health crisis disproportionately impacting Black women and girls, they came together with an idea. “We were like, ‘What if we just started the biggest, baddest movement this world has ever seen that is expressly for Black women?’” Dixon, who now lives in Ghana, recalls.

In 2010, they did just that by creating GirlTrek (girltrek.org), the largest public health movement and nonprofit for Black women and girls in the country, with more than one million women committed to walking daily as a form of radical self-care. Rooted in the Civil Rights Movement and Black women’s history of organizing, GirlTrek encourages women to heal their bodies, inspire their daughters, reclaim the streets of their neighborhoods, and find joy—all through the power of walking.

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Their community-oriented campaigns include Black History Bootcamp, a 21-day walking meditation podcast that takes listeners on a reflective journey through Black women’s history, and #DaughtersOf, a virtual conversation series that examines the importance of healing and self-care for Black women through matrilineal stories and traditions. Pre-pandemic, GirlTrek volunteers regularly organized group walks to get people moving. “It’s gone from a public health solution to the most inspiring movement, and we’re just getting started around how we’re supporting women and bringing bigger solutions beyond just physical activity improvement to our communities,” Washington D.C.–based Garrison says. “We’re literally transforming women’s lives.”

Walking daily for 30 minutes can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even dementia, and it can improve management of preexisting health conditions like hypertension. “This isn’t about 5Ks or getting skinny,” Dixon says. “It’s about taking a step in the direction of your healthiest, most fulfilled life.”

girltrek founders fcd3eGirlTrek founders T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison

GirlTrek’s Tips for Taking More Steps

Practice with simplicity. “I think sometimes we battle with perfectionism. You don’t have to get a new outfit, start a Zumba class, and become vegan on the first day,” Dixon says. Walking is low-impact, requires no equipment, and can be done at your own pace. “I love walking so much because it feels mundane, yet it’s completely sustainable and transformative.”

Get an accountability partner. “Carving out time is a healing practice, but it’s hard to do it in isolation,” Garrison says. Find someone who will continually check in to make sure you’re walking daily (you can connect with folks from your city at girltrek.org).

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Know your worth. “All you need is the understanding that you are worthy of the time,” Garrison says, “so put yourself at the top of your list and get moving.”

 

By Safire R. Sostre
Illustration by Chelsea Charles
Photo provided by GirlTrek

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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