Every day, WilmU’s Annual Fund Senior Director Gloria Johnson laces up her sneakers, grabs her water and hits the pavement.
She’s part of the growing movement called GirlTrek. With close to 100,000 neighborhood walkers, GirlTrek encourages African-American women to use walking as a first step to inspire healthy living and positive change in their communities. With icons like former First Lady Michelle Obama supporting the revolution, it has become the largest health-related nonprofit of its kind.
In March of 2014, Johnson searched for a local walking group to jump-start her fitness journey. “Dealing with weight gain,” she says, “I wanted to be able to walk around without losing my breath and feeling exhausted.”
She found GirlTrek online and created a local team named Delaware Sole Sisters, which is comprised of sisters, mothers, daughters —and many WilmU alumnae. The group inspires Johnson because they’re taking control of their lives, which is important for African-Americans who face dangerous health statistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions estimates that nearly 48 percent of African-American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke. The group also has the highest rate of obesity of any group in America.
“We don’t just rattle off daunting statics: we are the statistics,” says GirlTrek Co-Founder Vanessa Garrison. “We stay awake at night, have endless brainstorms, and are compelled to act every day. I calculated the average life expectancy of the women in my immediate family. It was 66.”
Johnson says her group has morphed her “fitness journey into her health journey.” It performs community service and hosts monthly social events to promote various forms of self-care and focus on the mental effects of changing one’s life. To date, there are 200 members in its Facebook group.
In 2016, the national branch of GirlTrek awarded Johnson’s team the Trek Team of the Year. WU