OPINION: Black women take steps for self-care

GirlTrek members in Los Angeles hit the trail in August 2021. GirlTrek launched a 30-day Jump Start campaign this month to encourage more Black women to walk daily to improve their mental and physical health. Courtesy of GirlTrek

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GirlTrek members in Los Angeles hit the trail in August 2021. GirlTrek launched a 30-day Jump Start campaign this month to encourage more Black women to walk daily to improve their mental and physical health. Courtesy of GirlTrek

GirlTrek mobilizes Black women to walk for health and happiness

Tameka Ringer was born and raised in Georgia and has always enjoyed being outdoors. However, it wasn’t until her mother died several years ago that she began to view her time in nature as therapeutic. She discovered species of birds and trees she had never seen before. She noticed the subtle changing of seasons. “It was more of a meditative healing state to be out there,” said Ringer, a 40-something photographer.

Soon after moving to Acworth several years ago, Ringer sought to develop a walking routine in her new neighborhood. A neighbor happened to invite her on a Saturday walk in the park.

Ringer showed up at 7:50 a.m. to Logan Farm Park and quickly realized it was not going to be a typical walk.

That day in the park was Superhero Saturday with GirlTrek. Women gathered near the playground dressed in blue shirts and armed with superhero names. Ringer aka “Thoughtful Tameka” began trekking through the park with about 10 other women for 30-45 minutes, each of them aiming to keep a 15-minute mile pace.

Ringer joined the national group of walkers and soon she was bringing her camera on their weekly walks to document the journey. She still enjoyed being in nature, reveling in outdoor therapy, but she was also enjoying those experiences in the company of other women — other Black women — who shared the mission of walking daily to save their lives.

GirlTrek was founded in 2010 by friends T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison. In 2020, their movement to inspire Black women everywhere to walk, talk and problem-solve in sisterhood, reached its goal of more than one million members, including more than 7,000 in Georgia.

With one milestone reached, the nonprofit plans to spend the next 10 years venturing into advocacy that will help change institutional systems. They also hope to increase the average life expectancy of Black women in the U.S. — currently 78 years — by a decade.

When I heard of GirlTrek and its mission, it was a reminder of how important it is for people to see themselves represented in different spaces to feel a sense of belonging and that no one should have to ask permission to save their own life.

Life expectancy for Black people has consistently been lower than that of whites. The gap began to narrow in 1993, but by the first half of 2020 the gap was the largest since 1998, according to data from multiple national statistical agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black women in the U.S. live longer than Black women in other countries, but their life expectancy is still 10 years less than Asian American women and five years less than white women in America.

Black women disproportionately have poorer health outcomes and less access to care, but they are often blamed for their own suffering instead of the racial dynamics that contribute to those conditions.

Through GirlTrek, Black women are empowered to walk as a way to heal their bodies, resist racist systems and inspire future generations. Members pledge to walk on Saturdays in solidarity with other women. They are also invited to walk 30 minutes per day, five days a week and complete a 21-day boot camp to earn “golden shoelaces.”

Members who wish to contribute more to the movement are encouraged to start a crew by inviting another Black woman to walk, attending national GirlTrek events, becoming an expert or coach, supporting global delegations and wearing GirlTrek gear at public events, marches and rallies to promote the movement.

On June 1, the organization kicked off a new challenge. The 30-Day Jumpstart is a self-guided 30-day walking challenge to help walkers discover new places.

Podcasts and special conversations inspire members to connect with history as well as explore self-care. Each Labor Day weekend, members gather in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains for a Stress Protest curated by healers and instructors.

Since joining GirlTrek in 2016 and becoming a neighborhood captain and crew leader, Loganville resident Stacy Madison has become something of a legend in her community.

Before GirlTrek, Madison was slumping to the gym doing Zumba classes and trying to get ripped. GirlTrek was an appealing alternative because she could walk alone or with other women.

“When Black women walk, things change,” Madison said. “We command our areas … we walk and sometimes we pray.”

One GirlTrek group in Gwinnett County has walked every county park. Other groups walk at different points along the Atlanta Beltline. One woman walks in downtown Atlanta using murals of the city to create her own walking trail. In addition to advocating for their health, many GirlTrek members have also become advocates for green spaces in their neighborhoods.

“We want spaces where we can walk safely,” Madison said. “We want spaces where we don’t have to walk with trash on the ground. I think Atlanta is hearing us. I know Gwinnett County is hearing us.”

GirlTrek crews are open to women of all races who wish to walk, but they are clear that their focus is on supporting and uplifting Black women. By 2030, GirlTrek wants to see Black women in the U.S. reach an average life expectancy that meets or exceeds the level of women in other countries.

Studies have indicated that Black women may process and internalize stress differently than their white and Asian counterparts, a factor which may be responsible for increased biological aging in Black women. We know walking can help reduce the negative impact of stress. An initiative that literally moves Black women to walk more can help change their lives.

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