Two of the main leading causes of death in the Black community are heart disease and diabetes, often brought on by a poor diet and a lack of regular exercise. No matter the statistics, people have found that certain communities aren't educated or given the opportunity to improve their health and overall wellness, but the non-profit GirlTrek was developed to combat those dire statistics. The group advocates for the health of Black girls and women, encouraging them to take better care of themselves — mostly through walking.
“We’ve learned to be invisible even to ourselves,” said GirlTrek member Theresa Thames. “We’ll take care of everyone else, but we will neglect ourselves because that is the trauma. It’s the trauma of history and it’s the trauma of life.”
“People need to understand [the health crisis] is real. These are preventable diseases. They won’t just affect the women that are living today, they will affect the generations that are to come,” said Nicole Hubb, national director of events for GirlTrek.
My poor elliptical in my room has been abandoned for quite some time and I don't remember the last time I took a walk for my own well-being, but after hearing about GirlTrek's latest efforts, I need to get off my little behind and get with the program. Since 2013, the group has honored slave emancipator and abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the date of her death, March 10, by writing the hashtag "#WeAreHarriet." In the 1800s, the escaped slave returned to the Maryland plantation that she fled in order to help free her family and friends. She did some 13 trips with around 70 people, navigating the dangerous paths of the Underground Railroad. She followed the North Star while being chased by monsters who sought to recapture her and those she was with. It took Tubman and her followers anywhere from five days to three weeks to complete the trip depending on how often they had to stop and hide at houses along the journey.
This year, to pay homage to one of the greatest conductors of the Underground Railroad, GirlTrek created the hashtag #HarrietsGreatEscape. They decided to walk the 100-mile route of the Underground Railroad Byway with their members, documenting their voyage from Maryland all the way to Delaware, crossing the Mason-Dixon Line.
As far as the leaders and members of GirlTrek were concerned, Harriet Tubman walked her way into freedom. They can walk themselves into better lifestyles and healthier living.
“We knew we needed to be even bolder and hold this unprecedented trek. Harriet Tubman saved her own life first and then went back time after time to save the lives of others giving us the blueprint for the work GirlTrek does today. This is radical self-care at its core,” said GirlTrek co-founder T. Morgan Dixon.
The Byway is a route that people drive daily, and the ladies of GirlTrek tried to cover at least 20 miles per day. They were able to complete their goal in just five days traveling alongside vehicles on busy roads and staying in motels along the way. These women traveled from all around the United States to participate in this groundbreaking event that challenged them not only physically, but mentally and spiritually.
“Everyone’s feet are aching, we’re sore, but we made it,” said GirlTrek spokeswoman Jewel Bush. “We met so many amazing people along the way. They honked their horns, cheered, pulled over to give us hugs. One older white gentleman, who heard about our walk on a Christian radio station, brought us bottled water from his truck. It was touching.”
“For me, it got rough. Day two was rain that turned into sleet that turned into snow. Every step was adding insult to injury. I was looking at my sisters’ feet before me, doing what they were doing,” Nicole Hubbs said. “It an honor to walk in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman, and everything she did for this country. We need to always be thinking about how we are serving the next person. Someone else is going to live in your house, spend your money, ride your car. But you can have a legacy in the people you help.”
Over 100,000 women have dedicated themselves to be "neighborhood walkers" of GirlTrek. With the success of this Tubman trek, we can only hope that more Black women will participate next year (that is, if they decide to do this trip once again!). How can other cities honor women with similar health and fitness walks?