“One in two African-American girls born in the year 2000 will get diabetes if something doesn’t change,” says Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek. “That’s absolutely not acceptable on our watch.”
Statistics like that, as well as sobering data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that 80 percent of African-American women are obese or clinically overweight, are what motivate Dixon.
Dixon speaks passionately about her family’s American story, from her mother being part of school desegregation in Oklahoma to her ancestors fighting in the Kentucky Regiment during the Civil War. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and found success that wouldn’t have been attainable without the sacrifices of those who came before her.
But something was still missing.
Through long conversations with her friend and eventual GirlTrek co-founder Vanessa Garrison, Dixon discovered that both she and Garrison had an unfulfilled sense of purpose. Specifically, they both wanted to give back to female African-American community.
So they started GirlTrek, an organization that was launched in 2010 to encourage black women to walk their way towards better health. Beyond the obvious physical benefits and community building, Dixon and Garrison cite African-American history as motivation, from the endless walking of Harriet Tubman along the Underground Railroad to the civil rights marches of 1965 in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
In March of this year, GirlTrek chartered 10 buses so 500 of its members could participate in the 50th anniversary of the Selma Bloody Sunday March. Wearing their “superhero blue” GirlTrek T-shirts, Dixon, Garrison and their sisters in health marched to honor the sacrifices their community had made before and the desire of African-American women to stand up for their health.
“Black women have prioritized the health and wellbeing of everyone else above themselves because they needed to do that,” explains Garrison. “It’s gotten us to this point, but it’s absolutely going to kill us.”
As of April 2015, GirlTrek had more than 29,000 members in 500 cities nationwide. Their goal? To reach 1 million by 2018. Dixon and Garrison see what they are doing as an extension of civil rights, and they say the time has come for African-American women to focus on themselves.
“We have an obligation,” says Dixon, “to just live our healthiest most fulfilled lives because so many people have walked so far for us to get to this moment.”
Morgan Dixon, co-founder of GirlTrek, is a NationSwell Council member.