Health disparities in women’s health funding, research, delivery, innovation and data collection are well documented. Consider this: Poor outcomes are amplified for women of color (Beim 2020). Racism has had a lasting effect on Black women, who currently make up approximately 7% of the U.S. population and 13.6% of all U.S. women (Chinn 2021). Black women are five times more likely to die from pregnancy-related cardiomyopathy and blood pressure disorders than white women (Population Reference Bureau 2021). They reach menopause 8.5 months earlier on average than white women, and their symptoms tend to be worse (Harlow et al. 2022). Black women die from breast cancer at a 40% higher rate (Glass 2023).
GirlTrek, an organization that encourages Black women to change their lives and health outcomes by walking outside for 30 minutes a day, is committed to shifting this story. A “healing health revolution” is what Vanessa Garrison and Tanya Morgan Dixon had in mind when they started the nonprofit. Morgan Dixon calls this commitment “a declaration of self-care, love [and an] outright rebellion against anything that causes disease, sadness, heartache in our lives.”
Rooted in civil rights history and principles as “a way and means to inspire Black women to action,” Garrison says that GirlTrek isn’t a walking organization, but rather, “a radical campaign for healing in our communities. It’s a commitment to both heal yourself and inspire your friends and family.”
There is a dire need for awareness and action on behalf of Black women. On average, Black women have a higher prevalence of heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes, maternal morbidities, obesity and stress (Chinn et al 2021). According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases kill more than 50,000 Black women annually, with stroke being a leading cause of death (American Heart Association 2023).
It is because of health inequities and a track record of being disregarded, among other issues, that GirlTrek walks — for education and empowerment.
GirlTrek shares the theme of resistance with this year’s Black History Month. As a “campaign to heal intergenerational trauma, fight systemic racism and transform Black lives,” GirlTrek sees “radical self-care” as a form of resistance. GirlTrek aspires to be on the frontlines of injustice. “We walk to heal our bodies, inspire our daughters and reclaim the streets of our neighborhood,” says Morgan Dixon.
In a 2017 Guideposts interview, Garrison said: “We were personally inspired by so many different stories, especially the story of Harriet Tubman. She walked herself to freedom and then came back many, many times over to liberate her friends and her family. She serves as an example to the women in GirlTrek to the power of what one woman can do to change course for her family, her community and her history, and we tell the women who walk with GirlTrek that we can also do that same thing, and we can be beacons of light to our families and communities.”
GirlTrek has active walkers in more than 2,500 cities and has experienced 126.9% growth in membership in 2019, compared to 41.09% growth in 2018. About 26% of GirlTrek participants reported taking lower dosages of medication after walking every day, and 61% reported losing weight.
“Now that GirlTrek has reached a historic milestone, we are excited for the next horizon of our mission, which is to increase the life expectancy of Black Women by 10 years in 10 years by 2025,” said Garrison. “We’ve already gotten a great start on the work and are excited for the future.”
See also: Exercise Protects Black Women Against Aggressive Cancer