If you’re ready to take the first step toward better heart health, you’ve got to check out GirlTrek. ESSENCE recently caught up with four GirlTrek members as part of the Release the Pressure (RTP) campaign – a national movement empowering Black women to prioritize self-care and improve their heart health. And now we’re sharing their stories and their mission to help you walk in the direction of your healthiest, most fulfilled self.
As the largest health movement and public health nonprofit organization for Black women and girls in the United States, GirlTrek unapologetically serves the needs and desires of Black women by mobilizing them to put themselves first by practicing radical self-care through walking to inspire healthy living, families, and communities. With each walk, with each challenge, with each 30-minute commitment completed, GirlTrek is creating a movement, a revolution centered on self-love and spending transformative time in nature and the outdoors.
Meet the Women
Joining ESSENCE for a candid conversation about Black women’s health were four incredible GirlTrek members from Atlanta who are leading the way, one 30-minute walk at a time. After losing her mother, Carla Harris always volunteered in her memory for different organizations until she found GirlTrek six years ago. “The mission just struck a chord with me,” says Carla, who now leads the organization’s member support program called the Care Crusaders. “And the sisterhood.” While her daughter, Christina Harris, said what she loves about GirlTrek are the opportunities to explore new locations and meet new people, while “helping Black women be healthy and happy.”
Also joining the discussion was Alexandra James, who was introduced to GirlTrek by Christina. She was onboard instantly, “when I learned about their dedication to healing,” she says. “I also like how they ask Black women to put themselves first.” And Andrea McEachron rounded out this fabulous foursome, she has walked every day for six straight years! “The mission is so clear and needed,” she says. “You can’t save others if you don’t save yourself, and Black women run the world. If we don’t save ourselves, everyone else is going to fall off.” “When Black women come together, we empower each other to take control of our health as we recognize that our health is our most important asset. That’s why we have to keep showing up and supporting one another for heart health,” said Jennifer Mieres, M.D., FACC, FAHA, MASNC, professor of cardiology at Northwell Health and volunteer expert for the American Heart Association – a member of the RTP Coalition.
Releasing Life’s Pressures
“You don’t need to ask permission to save your own life,” says Carla of the intergenerational sisterhood that is now 1 million Black women and counting. “It’s all about the connection. We are always sporting our [GirlTrek] superhero blue, so we can reach back like Harriet Tubman and tell sisters about 30-minutes a day.” Andrea agrees, saying “You are not alone. You can walk alone or you can get together with a local group, but we are supporting each other.” And Christina adds that a half an hour is a great way to release the pressure and stress of every day. “It’s makes self-care a priority, when you walk for 30 minutes, you are seeing sights out in nature,” she says. “It becomes meditative.”
“Walking for me, especially outdoors in nature, is an act of love and self-care. It takes care of my physical heart, releases stress and restores my soul. I hope I am an example of the change I want to see for others in the Black community,” adds Sarah Sanders, PharmD, Board of Directors, Immediate Past President, AMA Foundation – part of the RTP Coalition. “It is an honor and privilege to be in a position to support programs in the community which encourage and educate Black women to take care of their hearts.”
Overcoming Systemic Bias
When asked what structural issues should be addressed to improve heart health in Black communities, simultaneously all four women said: access! “It’s knowing about organizations, like GirlTrek and Release the Pressure, that can give you more resources and tools to connect with doctors who fit your health and financial needs,” says Christina. “Access is a huge barrier that prevents [Black people] from seeking out help. Historically Black people don’t like to go to the doctor. So, it feels like a combination of access and personal biases that we need to work through.”
Alexandra also addressed how to find a trusted voice in your life when the medical field has historically been unkind to Black people, specifically Black women. “We’re seen as strong, and our pain doesn’t scream as loud as our White counterparts,” she says. “It has left an impression generation after generation that our pain is not taken seriously and that we can’t trust our doctor.” But in her journey, she has realized that we need to shop for a medical professional in the same way that we shop for pants, it has to be the right fit. “Research not just their abilities, but what they believe,” she says. “My doctor’s profile says they believe in Black women, they believe in breaking generational cycles of preventable diseases.” She adds that the personal advocacy is the key to living your healthiest life.
Take the Next Step
Are you ready to prioritize self-care and walk your way to a healthier you? Start by taking the Release the Pressure Pledge to improve your heart health at ReleaseThePressure.org. And to help you achieve that goal, take the self-care pledge at GirlTrek.org and listen to the Black History Bootcamp walk and talk podcast on your 30-minute walk today.