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OpEd: 50,000 Black Women Walk in the Footsteps of a Civil Rights Legacy

GirlTrek is leading a national conversation on #BlackGirlHealing this women's history month.

More critical than the prominent voices at the table - women like film producer Tonya Lewis Lee, activist Michaela Angela Davis and the 18th Surgeon General of the United States, Regina Benjamin, MD - thousands of ordinary women will break bread with their friends and family on March 10 to lend their voices and solutions to the health crisis facing Black women and girls.

We are unveiling a documentary on the importance of black women walking together this weekend.

This is all a part of GirlTrek, a campaign to inspire one million Black women and girls to take walks in their neighborhoods as a declaration of self-care, a practical step toward healthier lives and a historic strategy of collective action.

82 percent of black women are over a healthy weight. Half of us are obese. 148 black women die everyday from heart disease. That is more than smoking, gun violence and HIV/AIDS combined. Simply put, Black women are dying younger, faster and at higher rates from preventable obesity-related diseases than any other group of women in the country and nobody is talking about it!

We know that 2/3 of black women engaged in little or no leisure time physical activity -because we have no leisure time. From the time our feet hit the floor in the morning to the time we close our eyes at night, our steps are ordered, by our jobs, sometimes two or three jobs, or our efforts to find a job.

We are busy being the caregivers as mothers, daughters, grandmothers and take great pride in our service to loved ones. In the words of Crunk Feminist blogger R. Boylorn, many of us are "too busy taking care of other things to see death coming."

We knew something had to change.

In 2011, I was a schoolteacher. I heard a statistic that HALF of Black girls sitting in my classroom - along with half of ALL black girls born in 2000 - would develop type 2 diabetes if diet and levels of activity stayed the same seemed overwhelming. As a history teacher, it felt downright disrespectful to ask my students to do homework about the American Civil Rights movement while I was doing nothing to combat the biggest crisis facing them. College degrees don't matter as much when you die prematurely. I knew we'd come to far for this. Something had to change. I talked with my best friend Vanessa Garrison and we started GirlTrek.

T. Morgan Dixon, Co-Founder and CEO of GirlTrek.

Ordinary women matter.

I'm deeply inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer. Before she was the iconic civil rights activist, she was one of us. Her formal education was limited. She spent her childhood picking cotton. Fannie had a deep belly laugh and greeted freedom riders from her porch wearing a night gown. "Respectable" civil rights leaders thought she sang too much. Her realness shocked the world and certainly terrified Lyndon B Johnson who interrupted her testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention with a fake "presidential address".

The most powerful thing about Fannie Lou Hamer wasn't her heart-wrenching story of being jailed and beaten. No. It wasn't even that she started a new political party in Mississippi. Fannie Lou Hamer's power was her voice. It was authentic. Everyday. Relatable. Rising. She knew our songs. She used our words. She carried her pocket book everywhere. We knew her, trusted her, followed her - 50,000 of us. We registered to vote in Mississippi because she asked us to.

RELATED: GirlTrek is Transforming Lives of Black Women Through Walking

So Vanessa and I hatched a plan. What if we found and mobilized ALL the Fannies, the Harriets, the Ida Bs and Ella Bakers in our communities today. What if we asked them to start a new kind of health movement with us? To walk for healing? What if every woman who - in Mrs. Hamer's words - was "sick and tired of being sick and tired" rallied? Grassroots leadership is how change has always happened in our community.

Thousands of women answered the call and this week they are jumpstarting GirlTrek's annual walking season!

GirlTrek is plotting a healthy takeover of Black communities. The national nonprofit is the largest of it's kind, high-energy, lace-up-your-sneakers-kind of health movement! We knew we were on to something big when First Lady Michelle Obama gave us a shout out on Twitter and invited us to the White House!

Our goal is to inspire one million Black women and girls to take walks in their neighborhoods as a declaration of self-care, a practical step toward healthier lives and a historic strategy of collective action.

It's easy. We ask women to take a pledge to walk in their neighborhoods every Saturday morning. Many organize walking teams and others set alarms each morning to make self-care a revolutionary act! We all commit to wearing bright, highly-visible "superhero blue" GirlTrek shirts so that together we can reclaim the streets of our neighborhoods!

GirlTrek volunteers have collectively inspired 250,000 supporters and 50,000 walkers. They are saving the lives of thousands black women and girls across America. For them, walking has become a sort of keystone habit that leads to a cascade of tiny rebellions against disease - eating more vegetables, taking vacations, spending less time alone, getting more vitamin D, in nature.

There is no question that walking works. It is affordable, accessible and culturally-relevant. It builds peer-networks, a mobile "neighborhood watch" and it is a sort of moving meditation that, combined with sunshine, dramatically improves mental health.

We keep going because of women like Sybil Outing from Newark, New Jersey, who pointed at her local GirlTrek organizer and said, " This sister right here saved my life. Many people think that I don't need help because I'm skinny, but I was wasting away. I had nothing left. I was so depressed, in so much pain everyday. I didn't love myself. I wasn't going to make it. But I'm here and now I love myself. I haven't missed a day of walking since September. GirlTrek saved my life."

This coming weekend is very special for GirlTrek. In a joint resolution, the United States Congress designated March 10 as Harriet Tubman Day. It has been 103 years since Mother Harriet passed. GirlTrek honors her each year by jumpstarting a season of walking. If Harriet Tubman could walk her way to freedom, surely we can walk our way to better health!

Join us on this Thursday for #WeAreHarriet: A National Conversation on Self-Care and #BlackGirlHealing. GirlTrek volunteers will also be hosting house parties to unveil the new mini documentary on what happens when black women walk. On Friday, March 11, we will participate in a day of solidarity by wearing "superhero blue" to work and Saturday March 12, trekkers from all around the country will participate in sunrise walks where they will form commitment circles and set their yearly health goals.

Join us, take the pledge and find local events nears you at GirlTrek.org

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