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Could something as simple as taking a walk around the block save millions of lives? That’s the premise behind the health non-profit, GirlTrek, who is harnessing the power of mothers to create safer, healthier communities all across the world! It’s a global solution to an endless number of problems—and it all begins with this first step.
So often, the first steps to solving our biggest problems are right there in front of us, so clear that they’re invisible. That is, until someone shows us what’s possible.
College friends T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, the founders of GirlTrek, found themselves faced with devastating health and mortality numbers for the women in their communities—Vanessa even calculated that the average lifespan of a woman in her own family was just 66, and often, her loved ones were passing away from preventable causes. But why was this happening? And what could they do about it?
On a mission to take care of themselves, they ended up taking a bird’s-eye view of a larger problem, connecting the dots between what has worked in history, their current societal reality, and their own way forward. What they stumbled upon was so simple, it was groundbreaking. Now, here’s how you can tap into their wisdom, too!
“We studied systems of change and we looked at walking scientifically. And what we learned is that walking just 30 minutes a day can single-handedly decrease 50 percent of your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even Alzheimer’s and dementia. We know that walking is the single most powerful thing that a woman can do for her health. So, we knew we were on to something.”— T. Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek and former history teacher.
Walking together for a brighter future!
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. 1 And for Black women over the age of 20, 49% experience symptoms of heart disease, whether it be high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, or heart attacks (which present differently in women). 2 As Morgan describes it in her and Vanessa’s brilliant TED Talk, every day 137 Black women die from preventable heart disease. “It is roughly the amount of people that were on my plane from New Jersey to Vancouver.”
Since 2010, the GirlTrek movement has been changing lives with the simple act of walking. It’s not only having an impact on women’s health, but it’s also improving the safety of the communities they work with. Inspired by the movements in civil rights history, as co-founder Vanessa Garrison describes it:
“Once walking, those women get to organizing; first their families, then their communities, to walk and talk and solve problems together. They walk and notice the abandoned building. They walk and notice the lack of sidewalks, the lack of green space, and they say ‘No more’.”
And as they walk, they become a safety net for the lives around them. Understanding a few details is key to being a part of an empowered safety net. Here is a great point that I discovered in doing the research for this article: “People often use the terms heart attack and cardiac arrest interchangeably, but they are not synonyms. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked, and sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem.” 3
The solution is so simple that it seems impossible for it to help improve so many areas of life. But as thousands and thousands of women in neighborhoods across the United States—and the world—come together and walk, the proof is hard to miss.
Here are Vanessa and Morgan on the TED stage in one of the most brilliant talks I’ve seen. So, grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy this powerful talk!
GirlTrek is the largest public health nonprofit for African American women and girls in the United States. If you’d like to get involved and start a (now socially-distanced) walking group in your own neighborhood, check out their Organizer 101 section of their website!
Give them a follow on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to stay up to date with their community! Their YouTube channel is full of inspiring videos about their members and chats with civil rights leaders. Check it out and subscribe!
Our communities are powerful systems!
Even though the problems faced by each of our communities may vary, one thing does not: we are more capable when we come together. Walking together not only improves health, it gives us a chance to look up from the blur of daily life, take in our neighborhoods, and discuss. What would we like to see change? What can we do to make it happen? The act itself is self-care but the results are communal.
Following the Tubman Doctrine
By looking into the history of change-makers, Harriet Tubman stood out to Vanessa and Morgan as one woman who made an enormous difference. Their doctrine, named in her honor and after her actions, is a blueprint not only for GirlTrek’s success but for anyone who wishes to enact real change.
In case you missed the four lessons they follow in their TED Talk, here they are again! (But seriously, you don’t want to miss this talk. It’s phenomenal. Go on, scroll back up.)
- Do not wait. Walk right now in the direction of your healthiest, most fulfilled life.
- When you learn the way forward come back and get a sister.
- Rally your allies.
- Find JOY.
What would happen if more of us followed these four rules, as well? What beautiful change could happen in our own communities?
For a few examples of change-makers we’ve featured here on EWC who seem to follow the same doctrine, check these articles out next!
The School that Changed an Entire Community
What if lasting social change started by getting adversaries to become advocates for some new future that everyone could imagine together and feel good about? This is how Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya started a revolutionary school that is changing the lives of generations of students!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Guerrilla Gardener Takes on South Central LA
Meet Ron Finley; an amazing fellow who’s come up with a better idea than battling over turf. How about using “turf” in a very old way! Take a look!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Meet The Company Making Travel Accessible for Everyone!
Trekking up Machu Pichu, exploring Easter Island, navigating through the wilds of Mexico; these were all trips once impossible for travelers who use wheelchairs. But this organization is changing all of that!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
So, now what are you waiting for? Lace up those sneakers and get out there—because you, my dear, have everything you need to make a positive impact, wherever you may be.
Stay open to new possibilities!
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- CDC. “Women and Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020. ↩
- “Heart Disease in African-American Women.” Goredforwomen.Org, 2020, www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/heart-disease-in-african-american-women. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020. ↩
- “Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest Differences.” Www.heart.org, American Heart Association, 31 July 2015, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks/heart-attack-or-sudden-cardiac-arrest-how-are-they-different. ↩
- TED. “The Trauma of Systematic Racism Is Killing Black Women. A First Step toward Change…” YouTube, 12 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8olL43PKJKw&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020. ↩