GirlTrek are a public health nonprofit for African-American women and girls in the United States. They encourage women to use walking as a practical first step to inspire healthy living, families, and communities. As women organize walking teams, they mobilize community members to support monthly advocacy efforts and lead a civil rights-inspired health movement.
We recently spoke to Onika Jervis from GirlTrek to learn more about their initiative.
“Moving is important for our bodies, our hormones, our adrenaline, and that is what gives us that shine, that energy. But we have to ask why – why is it that we see health problems in our communities? We need to recognize that for people of color we have a certain kind of internal stress because racism is part of how society is structured, and that affects us every day.”
Onika describes how in communities of color the stress levels are high, income is lower than average, and opportunities to exercise and eat well are limited. And the history of emancipation for people of color means there has been an accumulated burden over many years, accumulated stress that weighs people down and gets in the way of a healthy lifestyle. Because of this, living healthily can be regarded as a revolutionary act.
“Structural racism does affect our ability to participate, and it leads to a lack of opportunities. Although some people can afford to go run off their stress socially with their peer group, the average person of color may not easily have that option. So we may not deal with the stress in our lives in a healthy way. GirlTrek aims to fix that. We need to unlearn the unhealthy ways of dealing with our stress.”
GirlTrek figured out a healthy way forward by organizing group walks within city communities. The walks are in public spaces, so GirlTrek reaches many other people with its infectious and positive message.
“We don’t talk exercise”, says Onika. “That is not the focus. For us, walking is the new Happy Hour! I’m much more likely to go walk with my group, or run for a cause that I believe in, because I have a team waiting for me, in fact I’m more likely to do that than use an expensive gym membership. We walk, we share our stress and we share our stories. That’s our Happy Hour.”
By Rolf Taylor, VP Partnerships at HealthUnlocked.