Encourage and create spaces for self-organised networks to inspire poor and overlooked communities to exercise collectively for social and personal gain.

Freedom for Health

Walking as healthcare for the mind and body

Morgan Dixon was a self-confessed workaholic. She suffered from depression, which only made her bury herself in her work more. It made her shy away from friendships and intimacy and not pick up the phone to her mother. When speaking to other women in her life, she found many were similarly struggling to dedicate time to self-care whilst juggling long work hours, studying and home life. It was walking that made Morgan finally slow down and reflect on herself and her life.

Morgan, together with her college friend Vanessa Garrison, founded GirlTrek out of concern for the health and lives of black women. They witnessed what they saw as a health crisis for black women in the US – many of their friends and relatives suffered from mental and physical health problems. In fact, more than 80 percent of black women in the US are overweight or obese, and black women die from heart attacks and strokes at higher rates than other women. Vanessa saw the cause of the problem as women “not feeling like [they] are worth taking enough time to care for and exercise your own body.” They decided to start a movement, seeing walking together as a radical act of self-care with the power to make a change. In 2010, they challenged friends and families to walk with them and GirlTrek was born.

GirlTrek inspires women to walk to heal their bodies, inspire their daughters and reclaim the streets of their neighbourhoods. They also aim to re-establish walking as a healing tradition in black communities as a tribute to those who walked before them. GirlTrek is now the largest health non-profit for black women and girls in the US, with over 150,000 members nationwide hosting regular walks.

Members of GirlTrek speak of the life-changing effects of joining a local group and taking part in regular walks. “It’s a lifeline for people,” said Kartessa Bell, a volunteer neighbourhood captain. “Since they’ve been walking, I’ve seen people growing more confident.”For Teresa Thames, stumbling across the GirlTrek Facebook group led her to join. “It wasn’t about looking good or weight loss or fitting into a certain type of clothing,” she recalled. It was, “I want you to love yourself enough to invest in 30 minutes a day, to walk yourself to freedom.”

GirlTrek has achieved participation levels that no other health initiative aimed at black women has ever achieved. This is likely due to the lack of focus on bodyweight or weight-related health risks – there is no fat-shaming or scare tactics. Instead, GirlTrek focuses on the positive aspects of walking for mind and body and the historic significance of walking as a way of protesting injustice. As founder Vanessa so clearly states: "We are not a workout group. We are an army of women who are sick and tired of being sick and tired."

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