A Movement to Walk Toward a Better Life
When Coach Robin Renee joined GirlTrek in 2012, a mere two years after its inception, she realized, “This is what I was meant to do. I was walking anyway, and GirlTrek gave me the opportunity to organize people and be a part of something bigger.” That movement, which inspired over 100,000 women from across the country to take a walk, has since grown into a national phenomenon. At its core, it is taking concepts of health advocacy for African-American women and bringing it back to the basics. Put simply, the GirlTrek movement gets its members outside and walking.
GirlTrek is “[pioneering] a health movement for African-American women and girls grounded in civil rights history and principles through walking campaigns, community leadership, and health advocacy.” Organized walks are led by trained captains like Coach Robin every Saturday throughout the country and participants are encouraged to show up ready to trek, dressed in their “superhero blue.”
And it's working. From gathering 15,000 women at National Mall and Memorial Parks in 2013 for an active tribute to Harriet Tubman, to being invited to President’s Park (White House) by President Obama in 2014, to earning its distinction as the largest health nonprofit for Black women and girls in 2016, the rise of the GirlTrek movement has been fast and fruitful.
Looking forward, the goal is clear: GirlTrek wants to mobilize one million walkers by 2018.
The benefits of GirlTrek, however, extend far beyond getting its members outside. As co-founder Vanessa Garrison mentioned in her TED Talk earlier this year with co-founder T. Morgan Dixon, “Once walking, women get to organizing – first their families, then their communities, to walk and solve problems together. They walk and notice the abandoned buildings. They walk and notice the lack of sidewalks, the lack of green space, and they say, ‘No more.’”
That's one of the many reasons Coach Robin loves being a part of the organization. She is a social services professional in Chicago and leads hikes for women in the greater Chicagoland area, including the Trekkers in Training walking group for girls age 18 and under. “That's how we get the moms,” she quips. “Have them drop their daughters off for a walk and then they get curious.”
Coach Robin's training as a part of the NOLS School with other GirlTrek captains has made her supremely qualified to lead others on this journey. After spending nearly ten days in the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest, her biggest motivator was the thought of the women waiting for her back in Chicago, telling herself time and again that “there are thousands of women waiting on me to finish this.”
This summer, Coach Robin and other GirlTrek captains are focused on their Summer Trek Series, which brings Black women and girls on hikes in some of the most breathtaking places in America, from Yosemite National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains, to the many local parks and state parks in their communities. Her team is also planning to start incorporating yoga and Pilates into their schedule on their days off from walking.
As the GirlTrek movement continues to grow and as thousands more women start to lace up their walking shoes, Coach Robin sees the most important outcome being the change that happens inside each member. “GirlTrek is more than a fitness club or a healthy eating organization. It's a healing movement. Walking is just what we do to get your attention and help you walk toward a better life.”