GirlTrek is Transforming Lives of Black Women Through Walking


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By Andrea King Collier

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy unveiled a call to action Wednesday, encouraging walking and walkable communities with the Step It Up initiative.

“We are facing an explosion of chronic illnesses,” Murthy said. “Seven out of ten deaths can be prevented by lifestyle changes including physical activity such as walking."

Surgeon General Murthy says just 22 minutes a day of brisk walking can help reduce diabetes and heart disease and it’s important to make sure that there are safe walkways available all for adults and children, in order to truly address the lack of physical activity.

A 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that three out of every ten Americans reported that no sidewalks existed along any streets in their neighborhood. In some communities, violence – and the perception of violence – may prove a barrier to walking.

Vanessa Garrison co-founder with Morgan Dixon of GirlTrek, a national movement to get black women walking called walking a “powerful healing tradition” with a big impact.

Garrison estimates that there are 35,000 black women and girls involved in GirlTrek chapters, led by 400 neighborhood-based organizers, hitting the streets in their neighborhoods and communities every day.

“I know lives are being transformed through walking,” said Garrison. “A woman facing tremendous odds in her life is still lacing up her shoes to walk with us.”

We are connected and nobody gets left behind. No matter who lags behind there is always someone to walk with you.

Danita Kimball, a Detroit woman who lost her son to gun violence, is just one example. “She started walking to honor her son.” said Garrison.

The Step It Up initiative will help address some of the challenges of walking in urban areas like Detroit, such as designing safe and convenient places to walk.

Karmen Curry has been a part of the Detroit GirlTrekkers , the largest chapter in the country, since 2012.

“I saw a video of Chrysantha Norwood, one of the volunteer leaders in Detroit, talking about walking with her kids at school,” said Curry. “I got inspired for myself and for my grandson.”

Curry says the key was making the decision to consistently walk, and sticking with it. She started walking by herself at first and then joined the Detroit Harriet Tubman walking challenge which is held in March each year. GirlTrek chapters host the event, which is the kick-off to a larger challenge to walk 30 minutes daily five days a week, for eight weeks straight.

Curry sees walking as more than just a part of her toolkit for staying healthy. “It is about sisterhood and support,” she said. “In our group there are mostly middle aged ladies that come together. We are connected, and nobody gets left behind. No matter who lags behind there is always someone to walk with you.”

And in terms of the commitment to walking, she says it builds more than physical endurance, “it forces you to move out of your comfort zones.”

Curry has since participated in 5K and 10K walks with the GirlTrek group. This summer the Girl Trekkers went to the Indiana Dunes and hiked the hilly sands.

The Detroit GirlTrek crew is ending their season with a bang. They start 40 days of trekking on October 19th, finishing up on Thanksgiving Day.

Curry is determined to keep walking every day. “I have a treadmill that I use when the weather is bad. I have no excuses,” she said.

Garrison is pleased that the Step It Up initiative is encouraging people to get moving, but GirlTrek is one group that didn’t need a government call to action to rally the troops.

Heal Yourself One Step at a TimeWalking is probably one of the least expensive and most effective ways of improving your overall health. So lace up your walking shoes and get moving. The payoffs can be big:

  • Reduce your risk of coronary heart disease

  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels

  • Maintain body weight

  • Lower the risk of obesity

  • Improve your mood and mental wellbeing

  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis

  • Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer

  • Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes