Interview By Jessica Rodriguez
GirlTrek is a national nonprofit that encourages Black women and girls to reclaim their health by pledging to walk daily. They have built partnerships with outdoor retail brands (REI, ACE and Columbia to name a few), the National Park Service and Michelle Obama’s Lets Move Campaign. GirlTrek’s movement has been featured in The New York Times, Ebony.com and was named a Health Hero by Essence magazine. The rising health issues, like the fact that 82% of Black women are over a healthy body weight, shows the dire necessity for an active based health program within the Black community. And with over 70,000 participants, Girltrek plans to fill this void. In this interview, GirlTreks’ Communications Director, Jewel Bush and I discuss Black women’s health and their upcoming election campaign, The Black Girl’s Justice League.
Tell us about The Black Girl’s Justice League campaign?
In her address to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama said: “We need to knock on every door, we need to get out every vote!” GirlTrek decided to answer her call. For Advocacy August, GirlTrek is launching the #BlackGirlJusticeLeague. From Sacramento to Brooklyn and Seattle to Cleveland, GirlTrek will train women from across the United States in voter registration. GirlTrek volunteers will set personal goals of walking 50 miles, registering 50 voters or hosting pop-up registration tables in their neighborhoods before August 31st.
How do I join?
Before Election Day, walk 50 miles, register 50 new voters or host a pop up table the weekend August 18th, that's the day women got the right to vote in 1920. Click here to sign up.
How do I host a walk on Election Day?
Post your own event here. The name of your walk should be: "[Insert Name of Polling Location] Justice Crusade," for example Drew Middle School Justice Crusade. To find your voting location, click here.
How do I find a walk near me?
Click here and type in your zip code. If you don't see a walk to your polling place, start training and create one.
Who are the walkers voting for?
You choose. This is not a partisan campaign. We are not lobbying for a party. Volunteers should not wear candidate buttons or stickers on their GirlTrek gear.
How did the idea for this campaign come about?
Voter turnout will be critical this presidential election. Black women -- as a voting bloc -- are a key constituency. From police violence to reproductive rights, our issues matter. With a mission of self-care, our goal to show up and show out by inspiring 1,000 Black women to lead walks on voting day.
Picture it now: 10, 50, even 100 neighbors walking together to the ballot box on November 8th. Our mission isn’t just to walk for fitness. It’s about coming together and walking together to heal, to inspire, to empower, and to take ownership of neighborhood streets and communities.
Why do you feel it’s important to integrate this upcoming election with your health advocacy non-profit?
For too long, the Black community – and Black women in particular – have been left behind by the health and wellness movement, and as a result, score worse across most health indicators than any other subgroup in the U.S. 80% of Black women are over a healthy body weight and 53% are morbidly obese.
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.
GirlTrek gives Black women a realistic, culturally relevant path toward better health, improves the health outcomes of Black women by increasing activity rates and creating a peer culture of healthy decision-making and empowers women to organize their peers into highly visible walking groups who then connect to other groups through an active social media presence.
What do you hope Black women will take from participating in this campaign?
We organize for Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells, Septima Clark and every other Black woman who stood in the gap to secure our right to vote.
What are other ways Black women can positively change their wellbeing?
GirlTrek challenges the belief that Black women and girls don’t hike or we don’t like nature or care about fitness. GirlTrek’s trains women from across the country to become outdoor trip leaders so they can use their skills to bring even more Black women and girls out into nature on beautiful walks and hikes to take advantage of fresh air and the many parks and trails in the U.S.
We believe very deeply that GirlTrek is a solution. We’ve done the research and we know that walking at least 30 minutes a day works. It reduces risk of heart disease and stroke; lowers risk of obesity, enhances mental well-being and so much more.
For these women who join GirlTrek, walking has become a keystone habit that leads to a cascade of tiny rebellions against disease by developing healthier life practices such as eating better, spending less time alone and increased Vitamin D intake due to being out in nature more.
How is the act of reclaiming health and wellness also a political stance for Black women?
The reality is Black women and girls are living under some trying circumstances in today’s world. They live in communities that are under extreme stress whether it be from crime, health disparities, blight or even gentrification. GirlTrek encourages Black women and girls to get active and be visible in their communities through walking in the streets of their neighborhoods and at local parks and trails.
Our walking is not for sport. We don't hit the streets of our communities for show. Our movement is more than cool hashtags and cute outfits. This is a revolution. Our walking is our activism.
What are GirlTrek’s future goals? Do you have any other upcoming campaigns or events to look out for?
In a few short years, GirlTrek has grown to a force of more than 70,000 Black women and girls who walk daily in local parks, trails and the streets of their neighborhoods getting healthy all the while reclaiming community space. We have monthly walking challenges. By the year 2018, GirlTrek’s goal is to mobilize 1 million Black women and girls to be the changemakers in their lives and communities by developing a routine of walking in order to move in the direction of their healthiest, most fulfilled lives.
Support the GirlTrek Thunderclap. What’s a Thunderclap? On Wednesday, Aug. 31st at noon EST everyone's social media --Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr -- will post the exact message at the exact same time! That's right! This show of #BlackGirlJusticeLeague solidarity will put GirlTrek in front of thousands of people around the world all at once!