Could something as simple as taking a walk around the block save millions of lives? That’s the premise behind the health non-profit, GirlTrek, who is harnessing the power of mothers to create safer, healthier communities all across the world! It’s a global solution to an endless number of problems—and it all begins with this first step.

So often, the first steps to solving our biggest problems are right there in front of us, so clear that they’re invisible. That is, until someone shows us what’s possible.

College friends T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, the founders of GirlTrek, found themselves faced with devastating health and mortality numbers for the women in their communities—Vanessa even calculated that the average lifespan of a woman in her own family was just 66, and often, her loved ones were passing away from preventable causes. But why was this happening? And what could they do about it?

On a mission to take care of themselves, they ended up taking a bird’s-eye view of a larger problem, connecting the dots between what has worked in history, their current societal reality, and their own way forward. What they stumbled upon was so simple, it was groundbreaking. Now, here’s how you can tap into their wisdom, too!

“We studied systems of change and we looked at walking scientifically. And what we learned is that walking just 30 minutes a day can single-handedly decrease 50 percent of your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, even Alzheimer’s and dementia. We know that walking is the single most powerful thing that a woman can do for her health. So, we knew we were on to something.”
— T. Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek and former history teacher.

Walking together for a brighter future!

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. 1 And for Black women over the age of 20, 49% experience symptoms of heart disease, whether it be high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, or heart attacks (which present differently in women). 2

As Morgan describes it in her and Vanessa’s brilliant TED Talk, every day 137 Black women die from preventable heart disease. “It is roughly the amount of people that were on my plane from New Jersey to Vancouver.”

Since 2010, the GirlTrek movement has been changing lives with the simple act of walking. It’s not only having an impact on women’s health, but it’s also improving the safety of the communities they work with.

Inspired by the movements in civil rights history, as co-founder Vanessa Garrison describes it:

“Once walking, those women get to organizing; first their families, then their communities, to walk and talk and solve problems together. They walk and notice the abandoned building. They walk and notice the lack of sidewalks, the lack of green space, and they say ‘No more’.”

And as they walk, they become a safety net for the lives around them.

The solution is so simple that it seems impossible for it to help improve so many areas of life. But as thousands and thousands of women in neighborhoods across the United States—and the world—come together and walk, the proof is hard to miss.

Here are Vanessa and Morgan on the TED stage in one of the most brilliant talks I’ve seen. So, grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy this powerful talk!

Via: TED 3

GirlTrek is the largest public health nonprofit for African American women and girls in the United States. If you’d like to get involved and start a (now socially-distanced) walking group in your own neighborhood, check out their Organizer 101 section of their website!

Give them a follow on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to stay up to date with their community! Their YouTube channel is full of inspiring videos about their members and chats with civil rights leaders. Check it out and subscribe!

Our communities are powerful systems!

Even though the problems faced by each of our communities may vary, one thing does not: we are more capable when we come together.

Walking together not only improves health, it gives us a chance to look up from the blur of daily life, take in our neighborhoods, and discuss. What would we like to see change? What can we do to make it happen? The act itself is self-care but the results are communal.

Following the Tubman Doctrine

By looking into the history of change-makers, Harriet Tubman stood out to Vanessa and Morgan as one woman who made an enormous difference. Their doctrine, named in her honor and after her actions, is a blueprint not only for GirlTrek’s success but for anyone who wishes to enact real change.

In case you missed the four lessons they follow in their TED Talk, here they are again! (But seriously, you don’t want to miss this talk. It’s phenomenal. Go on, scroll back up.)

  • Do not wait. Walk right now in the direction of your healthiest, most fulfilled life.

  • When you learn the way forward come back and get a sister.

  • Rally your allies.

  • Find JOY.

What would happen if more of us followed these four rules, as well? What beautiful change could happen in our own communities?

For a few examples of change-makers we’ve featured here on EWC who seem to follow the same doctrine, check these articles out next!

18 minutes

The School that Changed an Entire Community

What if lasting social change started by getting adversaries to become advocates for some new future that everyone could imagine together and feel good about? This is how Dr. Kakenya Ntaiya started a revolutionary school that is changing the lives of generations of students!

Read More

15 minutes

Guerrilla Gardener Takes on South Central LA

Meet Ron Finley; an amazing fellow who's come up with a better idea than battling over turf. How about using "turf" in a very old way! Take a look!

Read More

10 minutes

Meet The Company Making Travel Accessible for Everyone!

Trekking up Machu Pichu, exploring Easter Island, navigating through the wilds of Mexico; these were all trips once impossible for travelers who use wheelchairs. But this organization is changing all of that!

Read More

So, now what are you waiting for? Lace up those sneakers and get out there—because you, my dear, have everything you need to make a positive impact, wherever you may be.

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

Keep these good stories coming! 

A one-time donation or downloading and reviewing (and enjoying) our app can help us keep bringing you meaningful stories like this one!

Notes:

  1. CDC. “Women and Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.
  2. “Heart Disease in African-American Women.” Goredforwomen.Org, 2020, www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts/heart-disease-in-african-american-women. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.
  3. TED. “The Trauma of Systematic Racism Is Killing Black Women. A First Step toward Change…” YouTube, 12 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8olL43PKJKw&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.

In this Circle

What if We Turned Plastic Waste into a Valuable Currency?

10 minutes

[ Conservation & Sustainability ]

By Sam Burns

The Plastic Bank is turning plastic into money for people around the globe. This idea has the power to end poverty while saving our oceans!
Read More

Asparagus: A New Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries?

10 minutes

[ Health ]

By Sam Burns

A feeling very familiar to most of us almost kept this life-changing treatment for spinal cord injuries from making it to testing! Here's how Andrew Pelling and his fellow researchers overcame self-doubt to create this breakthrough innovation.
Read More

Meet the 97-Year-Old Saving Thousands of Bluebirds!

6 minutes

[ Animals ]

By Sam Burns

Can one of us really make a difference? After hearing the story of Al Larson, there's no doubt!
Read More

Transforming Detroit One Beehive at a Time!

8 minutes

[ Conspiracy of Goodness ]

By Sam Burns

Could vacant lots actually hold the potential to make cities healthier? Take a look at how this couple is transforming Detroit's many vacant lots into an oasis for urban beekeeping and enriching their community! 
Read More

Re-Imagining Restaurants: Zero Waste and Endless Good! 

13 minutes

[ Conservation & Sustainability ]

By Sam Burns

What if we just eliminated trash bins? This restaurant did! And this one commitment has completely reshaped the traditional restaurant model; pointing to possibilities that can transform food systems around the world.
Read More

Uncovering a History Lost at Sea: The Slave Wrecks Project

20 minutes

[ Culture ]

By Sam Burns

Can you imagine being able to discover your own history? Black divers and maritime archaeologists are diving to the depths of shipwrecks to recover stories that had been missing from our world history, until now.
Read More

The World’s Oldest Dance Troupe Will Steal Your Heart! 

26 minutes

[ Dance ]

By Sam Burns

The oldest hip hop dance troupe in the world has a few things to show us about what happens when we let ourselves live without limits. Artificial hips, memory loss, and all, we can feel like life every day is a great celebration!
Read More

Does Walking Have the Power to Save Lives and Uplift Communities?

16 minutes

[ Health ]

By Sam Burns

Have you noticed that the first steps to solving our biggest problems are often right there in front of us, so clear that they're invisible? GirlTrek is turning the simple act of walking around the block into a revolutionary way to save lives and improve the safety of communities! Here's how. 
Read More

The Bristol Bike Project: Building A Better Future on Two Wheels 

14 minutes

[ Conspiracy of Goodness ]

By Sam Burns

What can an old bike do to impact someone's life? Well, with The Bristol Bike Project, these old, broken bikes, are delivering remarkable new opportunities to those most vulnerable in their communities!
Read More

Turning Pineapples into Plantable Plates!  

6 minutes

[ Conservation & Sustainability ]

By Sam Burns

Meet the people turning fruit waste into super-sustainable packaging! Their amazing innovations are opening a whole new world of possibility for us all. Prepare never to look at pineapples—or paper plates—the same again.
Read More

Meet the Teenager Teaching Karate to Your Grandma!

7 minutes

[ Happiness & Hope ]

By Sam Burns

Can you imagine your grandma learning karate? 15-year-old Jeffrey Wall can teach her! He's bringing joy and movement to the lives of seniors all around the world, just by sharing what he loves. Here's the heartwarming tale of how sharing joy and giving back to your community can take the same form. Presenting, Golden Age Karate! 
Read More

Discover the Problem-Solving Power of Poo!

6 minutes

[ Conspiracy of Goodness ]

By Sam Burns

Could a toilet help us solve some of our biggest problems? This organization is bringing lasting health to India's poorest communities with clean water and sanitation, all powered by poo! It's an ingenious approach to problem-solving that we can all adopt. Just take a look!
Read More