LA-rooted nonprofit empowers Black women to take control of their health with simple solution

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The statistics are alarming: More than 100 Black women die every day from preventable diseases. But it doesn't have to be this way. This L.A.-rooted nonprofit offers a solution that changes habits and changes lives, one step at a time.

At L.A.'s Kenneth Hahn Park, a group of women are walking together - but it's not just a walk among friends. Across the city, state, country, and beyond, similar walks are underway daily.

"All I needed was shoes, sunscreen and some tights and that was all the things I had and so I just started walking," said DaVida Chanel-Smith.

This walk is part of a much larger movement to mobilize Black women to save their own lives. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison created GirlTrek 10 years ago, faced with alarming national statistics.

According to the CDC, 80% of Black women over 20 are overweight or obese, and one in two Black women are predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime.

"One hundred-and-thirty-seven Black women die every day from preventable illness, that's illness such as preventable heart disease," said Jewel Bush with GirlTrek.

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Today, GirlTrek is 1.5 million women strong. It's the largest nonprofit health organization for Black women and girls, and all they are asked to do is walk, 30 minutes a day, every day.

Even through COVID lockdowns and restrictions, when GirlTrek pivoted to live streaming podcasts to keep members safe, monthly membership tripled.

"We connect women, and women are saying thank you. We create virtual events or bring together legendary people such as Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni and the daughters of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to talk about Black women's health and wellness and we're facilitating conversations and bringing people together in a virtual way," Bush said.

"Black women are at the top of the charts for everything...and it's very important because I want to be a part of the movement that changes that," said Rochele Jones, a GirlTrek organizer in Pasadena.

The movement is also calling on members to reclaim their neighborhoods and work to build community. The message is empowering women to change their habits and lives.

"GirlTrek has changed my life in so many ways...I was a couch potato. I was not walking anywhere, that was not cute, not a part of my MO, but now I am up at least three to four times a week in my neighborhood walking with a superhero blue T-shirt on and I'm out there for myself. It's something I'm doing to benefit my life and the generations behind me," Chanel-Smith said.

For more information, visit www.girltrek.org.

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