Morgan Dixon Founded GirlTrek to Get Black Women Walking

GirlTrek combines public health, movement-building, and radical self-care

By Wendy Becktold

March 12, 2018

WHEN MORGAN DIXON met Vanessa Garrison, both of them had jobs at an investment bank in Los Angeles. The two bonded over Tupac Shakur, Nikki Giovanni poems, and the fact that they were both working full-time while going to college.

After graduating, they moved to Atlanta and started successful careers. Through it all, they kept up what Dixon calls "an ongoing conversation about our lives." Gradually, they realized that their values—a strong work ethic and a tendency to put the needs of others first—were causing them to neglect their health. Together, they committed to making "small pivots" toward a saner lifestyle—one that included regular exercise. And they decided to bring other African American women along with them.

In 2010, Dixon established a hiking club for fifth-grade girls and named it GirlTrek, but she wanted to do more. She and Garrison wondered, "What if we rallied a critical mass of their moms?" They started a Facebook page called Healthy Black Women and Girls and encouraged members to commit to walking outdoors for 30 minutes a day. They studied movement builders like Wangari Maathai and Fannie Lou Hamer. No health program for black women can succeed without addressing institutionalized racism, Dixon says. The way black women treat themselves is too tied up in how they are treated by society. 

Today, GirlTrek is the country's largest public health nonprofit for African American women. More than 100,000 women have pledged online to walk daily. GirlTrek organizes teams of walkers in neighborhoods across the country and holds events including an annual walking competition for black churches and a leadership training in Rocky Mountain National Park called The Mountaintop. 

By 2020, they hope to get a million black women to commit to walking daily. "When women are walking and talking together," Dixon says, "it's transformative."

This article appeared in the March/April 2018 edition with the headline "Walking the Walk."

African American women are twice as likely as white women to be diagnosed with diabetes. And every day, about 137 black women die from heart disease. 

Read the full interview with Morgan Dixon: