A national nonprofit inspires hundreds of volunteers and walking teams to establish footholds in high-need, urban communities

We knew it had to be simple – a strategy for joining our walking movement.

It definitely needed to engage folks, so we created tailored walking challenges that celebrate Black history and pop culture.

We wanted to offer real incentives – things like street credit, leadership opportunities, even golden shoelaces.

We came up with GirlTrek, a bold answer to the public health crisis facing African-American women and girls.  80% of Black women are over a healthy weight and 1 in 2 of Black girls will get diabetes of diet and levels of activity remain constant. We say, not on our watch!

GirlTrek is building a network of one million neighborhood walkers in high-need cities in America.

It’s working. We’ve already inspired some 30,000 women and girls to walk with us.

Last week, #GirlTrek was trending on Twitter on because Michelle Obama tweeted a direct challenge to our members.  Check out The First Lady’s Tweet, it was surreal!

2015 is the year of organizing for us.

We are positioned to make real impact because of a partnership with Kaiser Permanente two years ago. With Kaiser’s support, we created “GirlTrek Footholds” in 15 cities. These footholds are led by a network of new and diverse health leaders and walking teams. Our best photos tell the story better than I can.

Across the country, GirlTrek signs are posted in beauty shops, grocery stores and church bulletins.  They say, “We walk to heal our bodies, inspire our daughters and reclaim the streets of our neighborhoods.”  Thousands of women are committed to doing just that.

Our partnership with Kaiser created a groundswell of talent in cities like Washington, DC. In DC, Sharita Jennings, a 30-something, energetic volunteer with a bright smile, was nominated to serve as a GirlTrek City Captain.  Last year, Sharita experienced a rigorous selection process and a 4-day training that included a “signature trek” in the rocky mountains. Through a partnership with the Sierra Club Outdoors, Sharita is now a certified outdoor leader.  Sharita returned home prepared to lead a “GirlTrek Takeover” of neighborhoods across DC.

Last month, to kickoff her very first GirlTrek walking season, Sharita filled a 55-passenger bus with enthusiastic walkers, to join GirlTrek in Selma, Alabama. Over 500 GirlTrek walkers participated in the 50th anniversary walk across the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge to launch GirlTrek’s walking season. Our partners at REI published this blog about experience.

Most importantly – while Sharita was in Selma – her neighborhood captains stayed behind to host a solidarity walk with 80 additional walkers over a local bridge in DC.  This month, Sharita has a support call scheduled with GirlTrek’s new National Field Director.  Together, they will leverage the energy of the kickoff events to keep women engaged throughout GirlTrek’s 10-month walking season.   There are “Sharitas” in 15 cities now.  It’s what we envisioned when we partnered with Kaiser two years ago.

Talented volunteers and the systems to support them, provide capacity for GirlTrek’s senior staff to collaborate with and partner on the Every Body Walk! Collaborative. Our goal is to continue to generate and share powerful stories of how walking is changing lives. Stories like the one published on National Walking Day by GirlTrek volunteer Sandria Washington on BlackDoctor.org called Unapologetically Healthy: 26 Of The REALEST Reasons Black Women Walk.

GirlTrek is on the move. We are currently working to build a robust tech platform that will amplify our program success. We are partnering with local stakeholders – housing developers, civic organizations, local governments and directly with 18th Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin. We met the former surgeon general through our work with the Every Body Walk! Collaborative; now she serves on GirlTrek’s Board of Directors. 2013 and 2014 were banner years for collaboration.

As mentioned above, 2015 is our year or street-level organizing.

We are determined to move the dial on the health crisis facing African-America women. To this end, we created this fun 90-second cartoon to communicate the urgency and simplicity of our movement.

It is imperative that we reach our goal of inspiring one million women to walk by 2018 and look forward to supporting, working with and learning from partners in The Collaborative to smash this goal! Consider it done.

 By T. Morgan Dixon