This dynamic duo is on a mission to get Black women walking and healing together, worldwide.
– KEYS SOULCARE
GirlTrek co-founders Vanessa Garrison and T. Morgan Dixon were on a mission to get one million Black women walking together worldwide [in 2021]. And thanks to the genius ways they engaged tech, social media, and emotional intuition, they were able to make it happen. (Yes, despite the global pandemic.) Every step of their movement and wildly popular Black History Bootcamp podcast takes old definitions of “community health” and “social movement” in bold new directions: From their origins as a series of family-and-friends neighborhood walks in 2010 to a record-breaking 2017 TED Talk to iconic conversations with culture and political legends like Nikki Giovvani and Angela Davis.
And they’re just getting started. Here’s how they’re making it happen.
What’s GirlTrek’s mission and vision?
Vanessa: GirlTrek is the largest health movement in the country for Black women. It is a network and sisterhood of women who hold each other accountable, encourage each other, and are invested in building their communities and families from the ground up through sweat, equity, and love.
What inspired you to combine an auditory experience with physical movement?
Morgan: Necessity. When we started, we would literally take over museums and public spaces with what we called “wellness revivals.” We challenged ourselves to take four hours to completely shift how [attendees] felt as a sisterhood. Like, People are gonna come in tired after work and they’re going to leave fired up about their lives.
When COVID-19 shut everything down, Vanessa and I were like, How do we create a virtual community in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re sitting behind your computer, but really feels genuine, authentic, and plugged-in?
How did you arrive at the format of Black History Bootcamp, which is part history lesson on legendary women, part call-in show, part conversation between two friends who are learning, too?
Morgan: My sisterhood with Vanessa has saved my life. So, we just wanted to invite as many women of all walks — and Black women, intentionally — into that intimate space to grapple with very real issues, while celebrating legacy through storytelling.
Why Black women?
Vanessa: We targeted Black women because we knew we needed it the most. The [larger] community that came to listen to those conversations — because they needed to be educated and connected — has been tremendous. The first series of our [recent] Foremother’s Boot Camp had a million downloads within the first month!
GirlTrek has truly de-coupled caring for our bodies from “fitness goals.” Can you talk more about that?
Vanessa: This is a survival game and a lifestyle — a justice lifestyle, a radical lifestyle. Every single thing that came to try to kill us has failed. We’re still here. Generationally, we come from survivors who found this beautiful alchemy to be able to source joy out of sludge.
Morgan: If you’ve studied Buddhism, it teaches about lotuses coming from mud. That a hero’s journey. We deserve to cry out. We deserve to take up space. We deserve it now. Lifestyle justice which is so much more than [aesthetics].
You’ve continued to model how media and tech still have the power to connect us in incredibly positive ways.
Morgan: The GirlTrek community online is like, Okay, I’m here in this city and my apartment. I can’t move. I can’t go anywhere. But the level of sisterhood, joy, and connection I feel in this community is real. We’re dynamic women living in a dynamic time, so our programming and content is constantly evolving.
Vanessa: It’s not innovative to use text messaging to ask for stuff. It is innovative to use text messaging to say, “Good morning, gorgeous. How are you thinking about your worth today?”
Our community does it with humor and love. They’re hardcore. One of our staff members, Carla Harris, took on scaling this idea as a challenge. We now have volunteers that check in on members with a text or a phone call. We have an 858-GirlTrek phone number, where you can reach out if you’re in crisis — whether you can’t pay rent, are stressed out, or having a crisis of identity.
Black History Bootcampis a podcast, but it’s also a live production, which gives listeners accountability: meet us here, wherever you are.
What continues to inspire you about what you’re doing?
Vanessa: When you have women walking together at the same time around the planet, you can shift the atmosphere. That’s a bold vision for a public health organization. If politics are getting on your nerves? Great. If the election’s coming? Great. But, if we have one million women walking, praying, and innovating alongside Oprah or Bishop [Desmond] Tutu’s daughter at the same time? That’s even bigger.
Morgan: Black women are dying faster [and] at higher rates than any other women in America. GirlTrek has the largest movement around public health [that’s] led by people of color. My hope is that we deploy the energy of this powerful army of women to change some of the systemic barriers to living healthily: things like income inequality, environmental injustice, racial injustice, and access to healthcare. But also things like chronic isolation and loneliness.
What’s GirlTrek teaching you about yourself?
Morgan: I’m learning that I don’t know anything, and I think I know everything. That we can look back and take lessons into the future, rather than repeating cycles of struggle. Part of what GirlTrek has been effective at is pulling out those lessons from the past, reminding people of those habits and traditions that matter to us, and centering us as a people and a culture. Every single day, I’m learning more from that.
Where is your favorite “beautiful, long walk” destination? What do you love about it?