National surveys show that two-thirds of African-American women engage in little to no leisure-time physical activity. The root causes of this include chronic poverty, lack of personal time and cultural norms that value service above self-care, as well as the stress of underemployment and unsafe streets. As a result, 82 percent of African-American women are overweight and 59 percent are obese. They die from preventable diseases at higher rates and younger ages than any other group of women in the US. By 2034, 90 percent of African-American girls will be overweight or obese. Something has to change — and soon.
The solution to this health crisis is simple: daily walking has been proven to ameliorate the risk factors of obesity. GirlTrek, already the largest organization for Black women in the US, will inspire a million African-American women to walk to reverse the devastating impacts of chronic disease. 10,000 of the brightest and most committed of those women will be trained to serve as a new vanguard of public health activists. They will use local rallying power, practical skills and an unwavering sense of purpose to recruit new walkers, eliminate barriers to health and lead local events that set the standard for community revival.
GirlTrek plans to scale up their training model and boost their impact tenfold, by launching an event inspired by the “tent revivals” and “teach-ins” of the Civil Rights Era. This immersive training experience, “Summer of Selma,” will include three parts: skills training, an inspiring Woodstock-type festival and a 54-mile trek along the iconic Selma-to-Montgomery trail. Newly-trained activists will recruit walkers and lead more than 10,000 weekly walks back at home, providing one-on-one interventions and serving as healthy role models in the highest-need communities in America.
59% of women who take the GirlTrek pledge consistently walk at the life-saving level of 30-minutes a day, five days a week. With more than 160,000 committed walkers, GirlTrek has already trained and certified women from 35 cities to serve as group fitness instructors, nutrition coaches, mental health first aid instructors, outdoor trip leaders and walkability advocates. With national partners like the American Council on Exercise, Sierra Club, Stanford University and National Council for Behavioral Health, GirlTrek has achieved an astounding certification rate of 92 percent. At scale, GirlTrek will pipeline and certify the largest corps of African-American public health professionals in the US.
Vanessa Garrison is the cofounder and COO of GirlTrek, the largest public health nonprofit for African-American women and girls. With more than 160,000 neighborhood walkers, GirlTrek encourages women to use walking as a first step to inspire healthy living, families and communities. Prior to GirlTrek, Garrison worked in criminal justice, helping formerly incarcerated women access critical services. She began her career in digital media, working with news and entertainment brands like CNN, TNT and Sports Illustrated. With GirlTrek, she has been featured in the Washington Post and The New York Times, and was named a "Health Hero" by Essence Magazine. She has received social innovations fellowships from Echoing Green and the Aspen Institute.
T. Morgan Dixon is the cofounder and CEO of GirlTrek, which aims to eliminate barriers to physical activity, improve access to safe places, and improve the walkability of high-need communities across the US. Prior to GirlTrek, Dixon was on the front lines of education reform, serving as director of leadership development for one of the largest charter school networks in the country, Achievement First. She directed the startup of six public schools in New York City for St. Hope and the Urban Assembly, two organizations funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She has served as a trustee for boards of The National Outdoor Leadership School, Teach for Haiti and The Underground Railroad Historic Byway. With GirlTrek, Dixon has appeared on CNN and on the cover of Outside Magazine's "Icons" edition. She has received social innovations fellowships from Teach for America and Ashoka.
"Black women are dying at higher and faster rates than any other group in the country," explains Garrison. "The root causes are specific to our communities — things like lack of access to green spaces and healthy foods."
Meet T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, two of Women's Health's 2018 Game Changers.
Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon, the founders of GirlTrek, embody the principles of collective work and responsibility. Their eight-year-old outfit organizes black women to take ownership of their health.
With their second #StressProtest and plans for more, GirlTrek co-founders T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison are leading a self-care revolution.
GirlTrek, the largest health movement for Black women in America, has started local treks around Selma, Alabama.