In 2011, I heard a statistic that 50 percent of black women are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It just so happened that I was teaching fifth grade at the time, and those were the women-to-be in my classroom.
I couldn’t sit by as their futures were threatened by this silent health crisis. And so, I started taking girls hiking on Saturdays. Each time, we walked and talked about things that might be a barrier to them living their healthiest lives. At the same time, my best friend, Vanessa Garrison, was grappling with women in her family dying too early. I knew we had to do something bolder and more transformative.
Vanessa and I set an audacious goal to get 1 million women to walk—to improve their own health, to create a new culture of health for their families, to inspire their daughters, and to take back their neighborhoods. We invited 532 friends on our combined email lists to walk with us.
Walking is the single most powerful thing you can do for your health. Walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week reduces most chronic disease by half. Each time we walk, we also combat loneliness and isolation, and build community, friendship, and culture.
This is how GirlTrek was born. And not only do we organize walks but we also audit the needs of our neighborhoods as we walk. “Oh, we could put a garden there.” “There really needs to be a traffic stop here.” Or: “This mother has lost her son. Let’s walk and talk with her while she grieves.”
The more we walked, the more word spread. Today, with more than 270,000 members, we’re one of the largest public health nonprofits for African American women and girls in the U.S., and we aspire to reach 1 million members in the near future.
When we are asked who’s in GirlTrek, we say: It’s rowdy college students, it’s the lunch lady, it’s all the women on the church pew—it’s everybody working together.
Our national team walked 100 miles on parts of the Underground Railroad, inspired by the footsteps of Harriet Tubman. But I find it rewarding when women have their own quiet breakthroughs, like a woman who’s gotten up and walked by herself every single morning for a year, and on the 365th day, she tweets about it.